PDT Sports Contributor
When playoff time rolls around in any sport, teams with a longstanding tradition of winning are never very far away in any playoff bracket.
The same can be said for the Notre Dame Titans and the Covington Buccs as the two programs – who have combined for 46 conference titles and four state titles – will square off in a Division VII, Region 26 quarterfinal matchup at Smith Field in Covington.
The game will feature two programs that are heavily dependent upon the run, as more than 90 percent of the total yards accumulated by both teams have come on the ground.
However, if the Titans and the Buccs were examined by the naked eye, it would be hard to believe that both teams run the ball so much, as Notre Dame and Covington each averaged more than 35 points per game during the regular season. Notre Dame was able to average 39.4 points per game during the regular season while Covington tallied an average of exactly 45 points per game during their 10-game campaign.
The Titans and the Buccs have also gotten it done on the defensive side of the ball as well, as each team allowed just more than a touchdown per game over the course of the 2013 season. Covington also holds the slight edge in that category, as the Buccs allowed 72 points compared to the Titans’ 74.
ND coach Bob Ashley was happy with Notre Dame’s season and hopes that the Titans can make their presence felt in the playoffs.
“It’s been a good year for us,” Ashley said. “It’s disappointing that we didn’t win the SOC, but we’re definitely happy we made the playoffs. We are proud of our 8-2 record. We got beat this year by two playoff teams. It’s a good reward for our kids at the end of the season for all of the hard work they’ve put in. We’re very proud to send our seniors off with a playoff game and hopefully we’ll have a few more down the road.”
Ashley, however, believes that the Titans have a real challenge on their hand with the Covington offense. Ashley says that the Buccs rely heavily on the read option, which means the Notre Dame defense will have to be on guard when it comes to individual assignments.
“Offensively, they’ll run some different types of read options,” Ashley said. “They are definitely going to make you play assignment football on the defensive end.”
Ashley also says that Covington is not prone to making many mistakes on the defensive side of the ball and that the Titans will have to execute blocking techniques and limit turnovers.
“It’s hard to find a weakness with their team, so we are just going to try to control the things that we can control,” Ashley said. “It starts up front with our offensive line. We’ve got to do a good job of staying on blocks and staying low. They are very disciplined in their fundamentals and their techniques.
“… We’ve got to take care of the football, we can’t afford any type of turnovers, and we have to move the chains. We have to be able to throw a little bit of play-action. The bottom line is we’ve got to move the chains and keep our defense off the field.”
When it comes to Notre Dame’s offense, Ashley said that the Titans are going to continue to ride the two horses that allowed the Titans to get to this position in the first place – Jack Kayser and Dakota Smith.
Kayser and Smith have acted as a two-headed monster for Notre Dame. Last week, the duo combined to rush for 250 yards and five touchdowns in a win over East.
Smith has especially shined, as the 6-foot, 180-pound senior has rushed for 559 yards and 10 touchdowns in Notre Dame’s last three games.
“Those two young men have gotten us where we are at so far, so we are going to stick with them,” Ashley said. “We feel like that gives us the best chance to have success. We are going to keep doing the same things that got us in this position, which is to stick to our guns and try to run the football. That’s who we’ve been this year.”
Ashley says that in order to defeat Covington, the Titans will have to match Covington’s mental toughness.
“We’ve got to match their toughness,” Ashley said. “We can’t have any turnovers and we can’t have any mental mistakes or mental breakdowns. They run the type of offense that makes you play assignment football. If one area breaks down, then they can really hurt you. We definitely have to know our assignments, stick to them, and do the best we can. We’ve got to win the individual battles.”
The Titans will be looking to snap a 13-year drought from their last playoff victory – a 21-0 win over the Leetonia Bears back in 2000.
That year was also the last time Notre Dame won the SOC I title as the Titans went undefeated at 10-0 during the regular season and claimed the No. 1 seed in Division VI, Region 23. Notre Dame then defeated the Bears before falling to the Toronto Red Knights in a 22-18 heartbreaker.
The Titans and the Buccs have only met once, which was in the 2007 Division VI, Region 24 quarterfinals. Covington defeated Notre Dame 44-12 in what was the Titans’ last playoff appearance until this season.