No. 1 Peoria High edges No. 6 Notre Dame 44-36 in muddy Shamrock Classic

Aaron Ferguson
RON JOHNSON/JOURNAL STAR Central quarterback Cordan Taylor tries to elude the tackle of Peoria Notre Dame's Alex Shaw during Friday's game at Dozer Park.

PEORIA —Not even a lightning delay could slow down the quick-strike Peoria High offense Friday night in a 44-36 victory over Notre Dame in the Shamrock Classic at Dozer Park.

The Lions came into Week 4 competition ranked No. 1 in the state for the first time in school history. Their offense battled tough against an Irish team that seemed poised to dethrone the Lions.

“It was a game of fluctuating momentum,” Notre Dame coach Sean Gillen said. “A handful plays made the difference.”

The sixth-ranked Irish dominated the game on offense by outgaining the Lions 495-333, the problem was they couldn’t finish off drives. The Irish had a field day running over the Lions defense.

Junior Fred Dixson ran the ball 30 times for 226 yards and found the end zone four times. Senior Alex Shaw was equally impressive with 174 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown.

But it was the Central (4-0, 4-0) defense that stood tall in the victory over Notre Dame (3-1, 2-1.) The Lions’ defense had a touchdown, recovered two fumbles, forced an interception in the red zone and held the Irish to 0-3 on fourth down conversions.

“Our defense can do what they set their minds to,” Central running back and linebacker Jaleen James said. “We proved that we can stop anybody.”

James led the Lions’ offense by scoring on three of his seven carries and rushing for 108 yards. His final touchdown came with 48 seconds left in the third quarter, which would tie the game at 36. His play on the defensive line was equally important for Central to hold off the Irish.

“Jaleen (James) has a little more weight to him, and it gave him a lot more traction on the sloppy surface,” said Peoria High coach Tim Thornton.

James was a key factor in forcing a fumble off of a botched snap early in the third quarter. Kendall Watkins scooped the fumble up and took it 30 yards for a touchdown to pull within 21-20 of the Irish after trailing by a touchdown at the half.

Central junior Geno Hess ran 22 times for 76 yards and had one big touchdown. Hess scored from three yards out to give the Lions a 44-36 lead with 9:48 remaining in the game.

Peoria High made the key defensive stop in the Shamrock shootout. With the Irish driving in the red zone midway through the fourth quarter, senior Eli Horton picked off ND quarterback Caleb Haisler.

The Lions fumbled twice, but recovered both to maintain possessions. Notre Dame, meanwhile, fumbled twice and turned the ball over both times.

“Our guys out-toughed it at the end,” Thornton said. “We are experienced in adversity.”

Before a weather delay that lasted 71 minutes, the Lions were using a balanced offensive attack. Junior quarterback Coran Taylor was 6-for-7 passing for 123 yards and one touchdown. Senior receiver Aaron Jowers was on the receiving end of all but one pass play. He had five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Aaron Ferguson can be reached by phone at 686-3207 or by email at and follow him on Twitter @Sports_Aaron.