“Someday, when the team is up against it –– and the breaks are beating the boys ...”
One usually wouldn't "waste" the Knute Rockne-Gipper Speech on a 2-9 team, but the way the breaks were going Saturday with fumbles, penalties and replay reversals stymieing the Irish, it seemed that heavenly intervention was our only hope. In the end, this may have been the case as a freshman runner playing for his dead brother carried the Irish to a 21-14 win, the first time since 1992 that Notre Dame has won its final two contests.
Both at the start and finish, Irish running back Robert Hughes, who recently lost his brother Tony to a bullet, was the man of the hour. Robert rambled 45 yards on the opening play from scrimmage, only to fumble the ball away several plays later. But Stanford gave the turnover back when Tom Zbikowski caught an interception deflection at the Stanford 14 and two plays later Jimmy Clausen snuck in from the 2 for a 7-0 Irish lead.
But two more Irish fumbles prevented the Irish from padding the score and two nifty touchdown runs by the nimble Tony Kimble put Stanford up by 7. But a seven-play 70-yard drive highlighted by a 44-yard screen pass to Junior Jabbie knotted the score at 14, and a 100-yard multilateral play with Zbikowski getting the first and last throwbacks appeared to put the Irish ahead going into halftime ... only to have the dynamite play called back by an away-from-the-action personal foul on Trevor "the Warrior" Laws.
"He disowned me," Laws joked after the game about his defensive teammate Zibby, "I'm an acquaintance now, no longer a friend."
But the Irish had NO friends, at least not among the "Zebras," when a great touchdown pass from Clausen to the outstretched David Grimes was inexplicably reversed. Even the far from ND-friendly TV announcers were baffled, unless one considered the replay official was from the Pac-10. With the calls now all going against the Irish, and the field too slippery (indeed both sides were sliding around like crazy), only a straight-ahead no-nonsense freshman running back could save the game from overtime. Fortunately for the Irish, Hughes was this man, and a 44-yard scrambler by Robert to the Stanford 8, then his 6-yard touchdown run two plays later proved to be the difference.
Of course nothing came easy for Notre Dame this year, if indeed it came at all, and Saturday was no exception. Poor Irish kickoff coverage gave the Cardinal the ball at their own 48, and twelve plays later, it was 4th down on the Notre Dame 7 before a tipped pass in the end zone finally let Notre Dame exhale—and celebrate its third victory of the year.
Hughes' touchdown capped another huge day, as Robert went over the century mark for the second game in a row with 136 yards on 18 carries. Clausen completed 19 of 32 for 196, but a fumble and a "freshman interception"—not to mention the Grimes touchdown toss that was unfairly wiped away—spoiled an otherwise nice afternoon for the young quarterback. And, speaking of freshmen, Duval Kamara capped his fine frosh season with 6 catches for 93 yards, including an eye-opening one-handed grab. Yes, 3-9 still goes down as one of the worst Irish seasons ever, but two straight victories, especially when led by the young runner Hughes, who plays as if everyone is dependent upon him, but prays as if everything is dependent upon God, gives both hope for the future and reason for the Suffering Irish in the present ... for while the Notre Dame gridiron season may be over, its liturgical year is just beginning ...