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M Interhall: Shutting out distractions and opponents

Christina Kochanski | Thursday, November 21, 2013

No. 1 Alumni and No. 4 Keough will run out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium on Sunday and straight into a collision with another defensive powerhouse. The Dawgs (6-0-0) shut out the opposing team in three of their six games leading up to the championships. The Kangaroos (5-1-0) shut out their opponent in four games this year.

Both teams have fallen just short of making it to the stadium in recent years and each lost by less than a touchdown in last year’s semifinals. This year, Alumni and Keough rode the strength of their defenses to berths in the championship game.
Keough senior Patrick Hickey, who plays cornerback and kicker, said consistency is what makes the Kangaroo defense so effective.

“Defense is really what has kept us in it,” Hickey said. “We’ve had a couple low-scoring games and a couple blow-out games, but defense has been consistent every game.”

Hickey joined the Kangaroos’ football team this year with no football experience and will be starting at cornerback in the Stadium on Sunday. He said he attributes his personal growth and the overall strength of the defense to strong leadership.

“For the seniors, taking on that leadership role meant making sure everyone comes to practice, making play calls for both defense and offense, and basically managing the whole team,” Hickey said.

A total of 20 points have been scored against the Keough defense over six games. Thirteen of those points were scored by Keenan in the semifinals.

The Kangaroos held Dillon, Stanford, O’Neill and Siegfried to zero points.

This same consistency cannot be seen in Keough’s interhall football performance in previous years. Until last year, the Kangaroos had missed out on the playoffs for several consecutive seasons. Keough made it to the semifinals in the 2012 season, but lost by two points to eventual-champion Keenan.

Senior captain and quarterback Seamus Donegan said he attributes the Kangaroos’ recent success to young talent as well as to defensive strength.

“We’ve got a pretty young crew with a lot of freshmen and sophomore talent, so the years ahead are looking pretty good as well,” Donegan said.
The Dawgs have also experienced frustration in previous years’ semifinal games.

“My freshman and sophomore year we went to the semifinals both years and lost by one point both times,” Alumni senior captain and receiver Jeffrey Kraemer said. “We’ve achieved our goal in reaching the stadium and now it’s time to finish.”

As with Keough’s success, defense is at the heart of Alumni’s path to the stadium. Opposing teams have only scored a combined 23 points against the Dawgs. The defense recorded shut-outs against Knott, Duncan and Morrissey.

Kraemer, who also plays safety, said the defense’s strength is founded in physicality and skill.

“We emphasize playing physical,” Kraemer said. “Our defense doesn’t give up big plays … and we’re doing well forcing turnovers.”
Alumni senior offensive lineman Tom O’Sullivan said that aggressiveness is at the core of Alumni’s game on both sides of the ball.

“That’s what we like to call Dawg football: being big and physical on offense and defense,” O’Sullivan said.

Neither team plans to change its game plan or its mentality for Sunday’s battle. Although both sides are coming into the championships for the first time in recent years, the excitement will not overwhelm their composure.

“We don’t want to change too much,” Kraemer said. “We got here doing what we do and we’re going to ride that all the way through.”
O’Sullivan said the excitement of playing at the stadium, while intense, will not impact the Dawgs’ mentality.

“Everyone’s going to be 10 times more psyched-up than usual, but besides that we’re taking it as a normal game,” O’Sullivan said.

The Kangaroos are taking a similar approach to the stadium showdown.

“We take every game one game at a time,” Donegan said. “It’s just another game, but we’re happy to be at the stadium.”

Contact Christina Kochanski at ckochans@nd.edu