The Notre Dame Prep varsity football team finished the regular season with a 9-1 record. The Saints had several impactful senior playmakers that led this team to victory.
This year’s varsity team had their first regular season loss in four seasons. A tough game against Horizon led to their defeat in double overtime.
Varsity assistant coach Matt Rylski said, “This team is very different than our last two that went to the state championship. The most obvious difference is that they have experienced a loss. We are hoping losing to Horizon will be a blessing in disguise and our players will not want that terrible taste of losing to return.”
This loss was very crucial to the team as they moved toward the playoffs since it helped them work even harder.
“I would say…we had a tough game against Horizon, which we ended up losing 34-35 in double overtime, and that could have possibly been the best thing that happened to us, we learned a lot as a team,” said senior running back Dominick Mastro.
The Saints were looking to take the 5A division championship. Last season, NDP made it to the state championship undefeated, and their season ended with a devastating loss to the #1 seed Peoria Centennial.
This season, Mastro was a key player that helped this team achieve their goal of making it back to the playoffs. Mastro finished the season with 22 total touchdowns and 1854 rushing yards. Along with Mastro, junior wide receiver Damien Owens was also a key player for this team. Owens finished with seven touchdowns and a total of 604 yards receiving.
Owens said that his goal for the season was to help “the team in any way possible on both sides of the ball and giving it my best.”
“Wins, we want to win. I’ve gone to the state championship 2 years in a row and have lost but this year it’s gonna be different,” said Mastro.
The playoffs have a different tempo than the regular season. Coach Rylski said, “Winning the first playoff game means surviving and moving on. Whether you win 3-0 or 55-0, just advance. To coaches, the first game is the ‘first quarter’. You need to win 4 games for a title and each week is like a quarter of a game. On to the 2nd quarter.”
The varsity coaching staff is filled with playoff experience, both as coaches and players. With the new playoff system being used, the Saints had an even better chance at taking home the championship this year. Last year, the Saints lost to Centennial in the championship. This year, the Coyotes were in the top eight teams in the state, so they played in the open division bracket, which left NDP as the #2 seed in 5A and Williams Field as the #1 seed.
Winning the state championship was a goal for the Saints the entire season, but they ended up falling just short. The Saints were strong throughout the season on both offense and defense, and that was seen in their first two playoff games. The Saints defeated Verrado 38-28 in the first round. In the quarterfinals against Vail Cienega, the Saints won 45-6, only giving up one touchdown and no extra points. NDP lost to Campo Verde 20-17 in the semifinals to end their season and run for the state championship.
Rylski focused on teaching his players that they need to learn to work harder even after a loss. “When a high school football player loses his last game, 95% of them will never put on pads again. It is also important for the underclassmen to share that sense of urgency for their brothers. They need to see the game through the eyes of a senior, because that will be them before they know it,” Rylski said.
High school football is not just about winning games; it is also about learning how to work as a family. Coach Rylski and head coach George Prelock have made sure that they have incorporated that into their coaching styles.