For a brief moment, Saturday, the sun came out in South Bend; for a fleeting moment, the faithful Fighting Irish fans cheered and the football team celebrated. But in a season where everything that can go wrong has, even the celebration proved costly, as the fourth ranked and undefeated Boston College Eagles defeated the 1-6 Irish 27-14.
The first half, like so many others this season, was a dismal Notre Dame offensive display, as the defense kept the intermission margin, 13-0, reasonable. However, this score quickly turned to 20-0 when early in the third quarter, Jimmy Clausen, threw his second interception of the day which the Eagles returned to the Irish 9, and BC's senior quarterback, Matt Ryan (32-49, 291), turned it into a 9-yard TD toss moments later.
Here, yesterday's game turns eerily into the Purdue affair. First, enter Evan Sharpley, and although this time he entered not because of a Clausen (7-20, 60) injury, but due to the freshman's ineffectiveness, the result was the same. First, Sharpley promptly led the Irish on a 79-yard, 59-second drive which mainly consisted of great throws to freshman Robbie Paris (4-94) including the concluding 19-yard touchdown toss. With the crowd awoken, another freshman, linebacker Brian Smith, then intercepted a Ryan pass and returned it 25 yards for a score, and suddenly the Irish were BACK. But after being hit with an "excessive celebration" penalty, Notre Dame was forced to kick off from the 15. Then, the Eagles returned the boot to the Irish 44, and Ryan got revenge leading BC to a third touchdown drive that started in ND territory.
Still, the Irish were not finished—yet. For Sharpley led another marvelous drive and, on 4th and 1 at the BC 12, he threw another beautiful touchdown toss to Paris—only to have it called back by a holding penalty on Mike Turkovich. This time the Irish could not convert, and BC held on for the final margin.
So, with half a season already gone, can anything good be salvaged by another Irish comeback cut two touchdowns short? Sure, the game did hinge on two questionable calls. The excessive celebration penalty DID seem excessive, for although the Irish team did cheer loudly after the second score, it was not done in disrespect to BC, which was the original intent of the rule. (I mean, if a team can't cheer, it seems like it should be playing poker, not football.) And Turkovich's touchdown-nullifying hold seemed marginal, for as radio analyst Allen Pickett said, incidental entanglement could be called on nearly every play. So once again, yesterday's game proved that while the Irish still have passion, they have just enough talent to beat great teams if things go perfectly, but not enough to overcome true adversity, which, of course, good teams must do, and do often.
Thus, on the 90th anniversary of the Miracle at Fatima, Coach Weis once again found more Notre Dame football questions than he did answers. First on his list of dilemmas may be what to do at quarterback. There can be no doubt Sharpley provided a spark when he replaced the banged-up shell-shocked Clausen. But after looking like Montana initially, going 4-7 for 70 yds. on his first drive, number 13 rarely resembled #3 thereafter, going 7-22 the rest of the way. So who Weis starts next week against 10th ranked Southern Cal is anyone's guess. But I will predict Charlie's practices—and Grotto trips, won't be getting any easier anytime soon.