This isn't the football season that Zaire Barnes envisioned for himself and his Carmel Catholic teammates.
"Not even close," the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Western Michigan University commit said.
Barnes limped out of Notre Dame College Prep's stadium Friday night nursing a bruised right shin. He was playing his third game in a row since breaking his right thumb on the first play of the season against Richards and sported a gold-colored cast on his arm. Worse than his physical pain, however, is what his team is enduring.
Notre Dame celebrated homecoming by beating the Corsairs 41-14 in Niles to improve to 5-1 and 3-1 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference, while dropping the visitors to 0-6 and 0-4.
"It's about more than me," Barnes said. "I try to focus more on the team. There are a bunch of young kids on this team that have a bigger future than me, especially our quarterback (freshman Athan Kaliakmanis)."
Carmel sported a new look offensively against Notre Dame, which got big games on the ground from Miles George (13 carries, 124 yards, TD) and Ty Gavin (10 carries, 105 yards, 2 TDs). After the Corsairs' loss to St. Viator last week, head coach Andy Bitto replaced offensive coordinator Ryan Healy and called the plays himself.
"How'd I do?" Bitto said with a grin.
For starters, Bitto put Barnes at running back, and the senior busted off a 15-yard run on his first carry. That was the plan going into the season after Barnes had a strong season running the ball as a junior. But after Barnes injured his thumb on Opening Night while playing strong safety, the plan changed.
"This week, we were all banged up," Bitto said. "I was like, 'We need to establish a running game.' So we used him in the running game. Then he gets his shin knocked off."
Carmel, which last week was eliminated from playoff contention for the second time in three years and fourth time in the last six, came in having scored only 58 points through five weeks. The Corsairs were also playing a Dons squad that had allowed just 55 on the season.
The Corsairs had the ball at the home team's 39 on their first series of the game, but Barnes lost the ball off his cast on his second carry, and Notre Dame recovered. Six plays later, Gavin scored from the 1 to cap a 45-yard drive.
Carmel showed resiliency, manufacturing a nine-play drive that started at its own 20 after Notre Dame missed a 25-yard field goal try. Barnes plunged in from the 1 to pull the Corsairs even at 7-7 just 40 seconds into the second quarter.
But Notre Dame responded on its next series, as Gavin's 62-yard run set up Sam English's TD from the 1. The Dons then capitalized on a bizarre play. Corsairs punter Ben Packer chased down a high snap and punted the ball on the run. But he kicked it right to Kyle Gallagher, who caught the ball on the sideline and raced 30 yards into the end zone.
Gavin's 2-yard touchdown run extended Notre Dame's lead to 27-7 heading into halftime.
Behind the running of Sean Lynch Jr. (15 carries, 63 yards), Carmel ran off 17 straight plays during one second-half series, marching from its own 20 to the Notre Dame 22. But the Dons took another fumble deep into Carmel territory. The Corsairs' defense held, at least.
"We had 3, 4, 5 different big mistakes at the wrong time," Bitto said. "Against a good team, you give them a short field and they're going to step on you."
Another strange play led to the game's final TD. Carmel backup QB Stephen Gracia chased down an errant snap 6 yards into his own end zone and raced the length of the field for an 84-yard score with 2:04 left.
Starting QB Kaliakmanis finished 9 of 14 for 103 yards and no interceptions.
"We've played six really good teams in a row," Bitto said. "We're so banged up and so young. I was pretty proud of our kids. I thought we played hard."
"I love this team," Barnes said. "It's hard to go 0-6, but these kids are all pushing through."