The Tigers outhustled, outplayed and outscored the Bulldogs in the opening 40 minutes en route to a 2-1 victory at home.
"I just thought they played harder than us in the first half, for whatever reason," Notre Dame boys soccer coach Brad Wittenborn said. "We've had a stretch where we've won some games where we've played decent at times, maybe lucky a little bit at times. We just didn't come out with a whole lot of energy tonight."
Central controlled possession for nearly the entire first half and harassed the Bulldogs (12-6) into mistake after mistake.
"What we wanted to do was put pressure on their diamond back because they're slow moving it around," Central senior Austin Shupert said. "So every time they would get the ball, we would pressure from the back. And once we brought the defense forward, they made errors, and that's when we capitalized on them."
Central (7-10) drew a foul along the right side of the field near Notre Dame's 18-yard box less than five minutes into the game.
Chandler Bagley played a low cross in that two Central players intentionally let go before Shupert came in and buried it low left past a diving Notre Dame keeper James Holloway.
"We actually planned that," Shupert said jokingly. "No, not really. It was clearly coming through, so I just told him to leave it, and the ball came from heaven right to me and I placed it in."
It was a huge boost to a young Central team. Most of the Tigers were experiencing the crosstown rivalry for the first time.
"This is an important week for us," Central coach Dan Martin said. "They knew what was on the line. It really helps when we score in the first five minutes. We're struggling this year. We have a lot of young kids, but they played within the system and that worked really well."
The Tigers were relentless in their pressure, and it wasn't long before they pounced again.
This time Bagley beat his defender down the right side, sidestepped another Bulldogs player in the box and played a perfect ball to a streaking Shupert, who buried it for a 2-0 lead 20 minutes into the game.
"It seems like our team was passing real well," Shupert said. "We got some good passes together. We strung them together and then made the run through and then saw the opening. It's always great to score against your crosstown rival. I can't describe a better feeling. You just go in there and you score two goals right off the bat and they're down and you're pumped up."
The early start and pressure were a result of a game plan Martin said was talked about in a team meeting Monday. It paid off.
"The best thing is we took what we talked about in the classroom and brought it to the field, especially in the first half," Martin said. "The second half we kind of held on. Notre Dame came at us with everything. But that's to be expected when you're up two goals. You have a tendency to sit back. ... I felt fortunate to get two goals off of them. Holloway, you don't get two goals off of that kid."
The Bulldogs did show fight in the second half.
Jonathan Lynch played a ball to a streaking Aaron Arnzen down the left side, who found an open Luke Mocherman at the 6-yard box 30 seconds into the second half. But Mocherman's shot sailed high.
The Bulldogs had another golden opportunity 15 minutes later when Central keeper Matt Chism was caught out of the net, but Arnzen's chip shot sailed just wide.
"It's a game of inches sometimes," Wittenborn said. "There were some things we did very, very well in the second half and had some good opportunities. We had a real good look at the goal in the first couple minutes of the second half and mis-hit the ball. If that goes in and we get a little momentum early in the half, maybe things turn out a little different. But their goalie made some nice plays, and it's Central vs. Notre Dame. They played their hearts out, and I knew they would."
The Tigers seemed to sit back more in the second half to protect their two-goal lead.
"What we wanted to do was put a lot of defense back there," Shupert said. "We knew they were going to come out upset. They wanted to score goals right off the bat. Coach told us get there and we want to hold the ball out wide so they couldn't get it in the middle and have a counterattack on our goal."
Notre Dame finally found the net with 4 minutes left when Luke Crites hit a free kick into the box and Logan Buchheit managed to head it back post to give the Bulldogs life.
Notre Dame managed to put serious pressure on the Tigers in the closing minutes, but Central fought off everything.
"There was no quit, and that's a positive for us," Wittenborn said. "We created some chances and gave ourselves opportunities where we could tie it up maybe. I guess if there's any positive out of that, we had a chance to see if we could reach down inside and find more energy and make things happen, and I thought we did that for the most part."