Duncan Highlanders are motivated by chance at Notre Dame Stadium
Charlotte Edmonds | Wednesday, October 16, 2019
With playoff action kicking off this past weekend, the Duncan Highlanders remain focused on the task at hand, despite having the weekend off with a bye following their first-place conference finish. After beating St. Edward’s Hall and the combined Zahm/Keenan team by comfortable margins, the Highlanders tied Siegfried/Knott in their final regular season match 7-7. However, their 22-point win over the Knights and Moose gave them an eight-point advantage in point differential and earned them the top seed from their side of the bracket.
For many of the veteran members of the Highlanders squad, this postseason is a chance for redemption, having lost to Dillon in the championship two seasons ago. After the Big Red went up 2-0 in the first quarter on a safety, the Highlanders were unable to mount a comeback and connect on the offense, falling short of the title.
Senior linebacker Kyle Tomshack said that loss has motivated the team this season.
“I remember how close we came to winning the championship. Losing 2-0 hits hard and makes you want to come back stronger,” he said in an email. “It has made us practice more and get guys more involved in the team. We don’t want to come up short again.”
While players like Tomshack recall the sting of that loss, other players were inspired to join the team and experience the excitement of playing in Notre Dame Stadium.
“That game … convinced me that I wanted to play the next year, because it is just such a cool interhall sport,” junior defensive back Mason Sponem said. “You can’t do it any other place, and the physicality of the game is a great way to play and watch football. As far as our mindset, I think committed is the word. Everyone knows we have the talent level to get back there, but it is all about whether or not we prepare correctly for each and every game.”
So far that preparation has paid off, as the Highlanders have been dominant this season. That success is in large part due to the leadership of Tomshack, a three-time captain who plays on both sides of the ball. He’s earned himself the reputation of one of the premier linemen in the league and a key voice on the field.
“I think the captains Kyle Tomshack and Chris Wittig have elevated our play from last year to this year,” Sponem said. “In the past, we had some seriously talented guys who weren’t very serious about the game, but Kyle and Chris have totally come into their role as captains and [have] helped develop our team into a highly functioning one.”
True to his leadership style, Tomshack credited several key underclassmen as essential to the team’s success, in addition to fellow senior James Warren.
“[Freshman] Peter Kavanaugh playing running back for their first time at Notre Dame, [sophomore] Brady Flynn, our quarterback, has also stepped up as his first year at Notre Dame playing quarterback,” Tomshack said. “Defensively, [freshman] Rockne Hurley has been hitting kids hard and filling in on a role that we needed.”
Sponem echoed this, citing Kavanaugh’s “great instincts for the game” as his greatest skillset at running back.
That commitment to excellence that’s resulted from the loss two seasons ago is perhaps the Highlanders’ greatest strength.
“Commitment has been great this year,” Tomshack said. “We have a lot of new and experienced guys but everyone has been willing to come to practice and focus, which has created success.”
In terms of game strategy, Sponem said the team’s ability to throw a variety of different offensive looks at their opponent makes them a major threat on the offensive side of the ball. He credited Wittig’s play calling in particular as being a major piece of this versatility.
The Highlanders will take on Alumni Hall on Nov. 3 on the Ricci Family Fields. The Dawgs are led by seniors Christopher Garbasz, Adam Hellinghausen and junior Pete Hennessey. Posting a 1-1-1 record throughout the regular season, they bested Zahm/Keenan 14-0 this past Sunday, earning themselves a ticket to the next round of the playoffs.
Tomshack said the greatest challenge he anticipates from this second-round matchup is simply the lag time his team will experience from a bye weekend and fall break, going nearly a full month without playing.
“Coming off the bye and fall break will be challenging because we need to be ready mentally,” he said.
While the Highlanders are taking it one step at a time, the prospect of playing in the stadium is certainly exciting to them.
“We are just excited about the opportunity to play and win in the stadium. We lost two times as freshmen and sophomores, so for myself and other seniors, I hope third time is a charm,” Tomshack said.
Meanwhile, for some of the newer additions, the game alone is excitement enough.
“I am excited to hit people,” Sponem said.