Duncan transforms team in one season
Darcy Dehais | Friday, November 18, 2016
When Duncan entered the interhall season this year, junior captain Thomas Staffieri said the No. 5 Highlanders would simply “show up with our 11 and see how things go from there.” Approaching Sunday’s championship game in Notre Dame Stadium against No. 3 Stanford, the team has an entirely new attitude.
The Highlanders (4-1) came off a winless season last year, and the team had only one win in its history before this season. Staffieri said Duncan has worked hard to improve, capitalizing on the new additions to the team.
“We really had a rebuilding year in the offseason,” Staffieri said. “We got a few new recruits into our dorm and some freshmen that have really stepped up this year and a few new players that have joined the team. We’ve really turned it into success this year.”
Duncan’s only loss came at the hands of the Griffins (5-1) in the first week of interhall play, a 15-12 defeat. It recorded wins against Morrissey and Knott in the regular season and defeated Alumni and top-seeded St. Edward’s in the playoffs to advance to the championship game.
Staffieri said the Highlanders have made additions to their playbook and altered their game strategy in hopes that this matchup against the Griffins will bring a different result.
“Because it was the first game, our offense was really underdeveloped,” Staffieri said. “We put in a few new plays and some new formations, and we really have given our skilled players the opportunity to excel in the open field in the recent weeks by extending our playbook. I’d say that’s our biggest adjustment since week one.”
Duncan junior quarterback and co-captain Matt Kase agreed with Staffieri. He said the Highlanders would focus on utilizing their best players, something they were not successful with in their first game against Stanford.
“That was really early in the season, and our offense was nowhere near where it is now,” Kase said. “We’ve put a lot of new stuff in with some new personnel, and we’re trying to get the ball into our playmakers’ hands, which is something we didn’t do very well against them the first time.”
The Highlanders offense will rely heavily on senior lineman Steve Treacy, Kase and sophomore running back Micah Rensch. Rensch said it will employ both the pass and the run in efforts to run down the Stanford defense.
“We have a very well-balanced offense,” Wench said. “We have very good wide receivers, a couple good running backs and a really good line, so we’re going to mix it up for sure. We’re going to take it right at them.”
Because of a concussion he suffered in the game against Alumni in the first week of the playoffs, Staffieri will not play in the championship game. Instead, he will act as defensive coordinator on the sidelines, relying on his co-captain Kase to execute on the field. Kase said he expects strong defense from both sides.
“Defensively, we’re a little more familiar with them now,” Kase said. “We’ve got some pretty key injuries, including Tommy Staffieri. I like our chances, but I think it’s going to be a really good game. We know a lot about them, and they know a lot about us. If I had to guess, it is probably going to be pretty low-scoring.”
Rensch said the Highlanders set their sights on the stadium from the beginning of the season, holding confidence in their newest players.
“We actually kind of did [imagine we’d be playing in the stadium] because we knew we had a lot of talent,” Rensch said. “Obviously, that is a bold prediction coming from winning one game in the last nine years, but we knew we had the most talented squad in the league. We knew not making it to the stadium would be a disappointment.”
Several of the Duncan players said they have aspired to play in the stadium since they were young. Staffieri said his older brother played in the interhall championship for Keenan in 2006, inspiring him to achieve the same level. Kase also said he dreamt of the moment.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” Kase said. “I tell the guys that all the time, and they like to laugh at me about it. When my dream of playing for the actual Notre Dame football team didn’t come true, this was a different way to still fulfill that dream. I’m really excited about it, and I know the whole team is, too.”
For many members of the Highlanders, the support from the Duncan community has made their success even more meaningful. Kase said this year’s players take pride in their transformation of a team with one win in nine years to a team appearing in the championship in the stadium.
“My favorite memory of the season was the St. Edward’s game,” Kase said. “Our freshman and sophomore years, we didn’t have a lot of success, and we didn’t have a lot of the rest of the dorm coming out to watch us play. At the St. Edward’s game, we probably had 40 Duncan Hall classmates out there with us. It was really cool to see a lot of support from the dorm. We’ve really changed what everyone thinks of the Duncan football team, and that’s been really fun to do.”