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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish VS North Carolina Tar Heels, 1975

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“We did everything wrong for the first three quarters. Then, we did everything right.”

Notre Dame coach Dan Devine, right, confers with quarterback Joe Montana. (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Media Relations.)
Notre Dame Media Relations

And here we are, Week 8: Notre Dame vs. the University of North Carolina. Here’s a little on the series history between the Fighting Irish and the Tar Heels. ND and UNC have played each other 20 times with Notre Dame winning 19 (.950), UNC winning once (.050). Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was 42-6 in 1949, and UNC’s largest margin of victory was 12-7 in 1960. Notre Dame’s longest win streak was 10 games from 1949 to 1959, and UNC’s longest win streak was 1 game in 1960.

By The Numbers:

Notre Dame has won 11 National Championships to UNC’s 0.

Notre Dame has played in 37 bowl games, and UNC has played in 35 bowl games.

Notre Dame’s bowl record is 18-19-0 (.486), and UNC’s bowl record is 15-20-0 (.429).

Notre Dame has had 104 Consensus All-American’s, to UNC’s 15.

Notre Dame has had 7 Heisman Winners, to UNC’s 0.

Notre Dame has spent 842 weeks in the AP Poll, and UNC has spent 262 weeks in the AP Poll.

Notre Dame has spent 98 weeks at No. 1 in the AP Poll, to UNC’s 1 week.

In 1975, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to face the Tar Heels on their turf. The following excerpt from the 1975 Notre Dame football review, written by Vic Dorr, chronicles the comeback of the 15th-ranked Irish against an unsuspecting foe in the Tar Heels.

North Carolina

There exists among college football fans a certain camaraderie, a shared sense of devotion to scenic little (and no-so-little) stadiums and out-of-the-way towns.

Unfortunately, the sense of camaraderie is not universal. Wear a blue and gold baseball cap into Spartan Stadium in East Lansing or Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, and you’ll likely encounter more curses than conversation. But in rustic Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, that doesn’t happen.

It couldn’t happen.

North Carolinians, after all, are genteel people. They aren’t aggressive (not during the fall, anyway. During basketball season, that’s something else entirely). They hope their football team will win. They don’t expect it to win. And on the second Saturday in October, some 45,000 North Carolina fans flocked into Kenan Stadium, hoping to see the Tar Heels defeat 15th-ranked Notre Dame.

They came within five minute and 11 seconds of seeing exactly that.

North Carolina, playing inspired defensive football and taking advantage of two Irish breakdowns, built a 14-0 lead after three quarters and still led by eight, 14-6, with just over five minutes remaining. But the Irish, rallying behind relief quarterback Joe Montana, scored twice during the final 5:11 and — incredibly — won the game, 21-14.

Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine, who saw his team drift oh-so-close to defeat, called the triumph the most satisfying of his career.

“It was my best one ever,” he bubbled. “More satisfying than anything that ever happed at Arizona State or Mizzou or Green Bay. We did everything wrong for the first three quarters. Then, we did everything right.”

The Tar Heels did, indeed, play a hell of a game. Particularly for a team which had won only two of its first four games.

The first few series of downs established the tempo for the first three quarters: the Irish could make little significant progress against UNC’s defense, while North Carolina, behind Mike Voight’s power running and the short, accurate passes of quarterback Bill Paschall, applied consistent — though not heavy — pressure to the ND defense.

North Carolina shut off ND’s best scoring opportunity for the first half when it recovered Rick Slager’s fumble on the UNC eight. This turn of events annoyed Irish partisans in Kenan Stadium’s west stands, but curiously, it did not greatly encourage the Tar Heel fans.

When the two teams left the field at halftime embroiled in a scoreless tie, the UNC grad, who made no secret of the fact that he once played football for the Tar Heels, shook his graying head,

“We’re playing way over our heads,” he said.

North Carolina kept its head in the clouds during the third period, and very nearly put Notre Dame six feet under after capitalizing on a fumbled snap in a punting situation and a missed assignment by the Irish secondary.

The fumbled snap came early in the period. Tony Brantley, punting from his own 21, muffed a low pass from center, pursued the loose ball, picked it up and, in desperation, lateraled it to Jim Weiler. Weiler was dragged down on the ND 12-yard line.

On the next play, Voight stampeded into the end zone.

UNC, playing not at all like a three-touchdown underdog, inflated the score on its next possession. Starting from his own 10, Paschall, the Tar Heel QB, took his club to its second touchdown in 11 plays, a 39-yard strike to wingback Mel Collins, who had been overlooked by the Irish pass defense, produced the score. As Collins loped into the Carolina Blue end zone, UNC fans who had only hoped earlier began to believe.

And with good reason. Only 17 minutes remained in the game.

At this point, Slager, who had not had a good day, put together a 65-yard, 12-play scoring march. Two pass completions and five running plays move the ball to the North Carolina 18. A look-in pass to tight end Ken MacAfee gave the Irish a first and goal on the four. Two plays later, Al Hunter score ND’s first touchdown in seven periods. But when Slager’s two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, UNC fans began to celebrate.

And why not? Only 11:27 remained in the game.

Following an exchange of punts, the Irish took over on their own 27 with 6:04 showing on the stadium clock.

Exit Slager.

Enter Montana.

“I didn’t think I’d be going in,” said Montana. “When I did get in, I was a little nervous. But I knew there was still time.”

Montana tied the game in five plays. He popped Jerome Heavens up the middle for 20 yards, completed a seven-yard sideline pass (a pattern which was to prove significant), then hit split receiver Dan Kelleher for 39 yard to the UNC two.

Hunter’s second two-yard plunge of the afternoon made it 14-12 Then, displaying the composure which is usually reserved for seasoned veterans, Montana ignored a strong UNC rush, scouted his receivers and fired a two-point conversion pass to tight end Doug Buth.

Five minutes and eleven seconds remaining in the game.

The Tar Heels answered with a promising drive of their own. Quickly and efficiently, they moved the ball to the Irish 26. But on fourth down, with 1:15 left to play, Carolina placekicker Tom Biddle was wide right with a 42-yard field goal attempt.

“In past games,” said Irish defensive tackle Steve Niehaus, “we’d bend but never break. Today we broke a couple of times (the Irish surrendered 394 yard in total offense), but we had what it took to stop them.”

In the Irish backfield, Joe Montana was telling Ted Burgmeier to run an eight-yard out-pattern to the left sideline. Burgmeier ran. Montana Threw. Deep back Russ Conley slipped. And the play which was supposed to gain eight yards and stop the clock gained 80 yards — incredibly — and put Notre Dame on top to stay, 21-14.

After Conley took himself out of the play, Burgmeier turned upfield and began a footrace with safety Bobby Trott.

“He (Trott) was the last guy left,” said Burgmeier. “I had to decided whether to fake him inside or outside. I decided to fake him outside so that if he did tackle me I’d be out of bounds.”

Burgmeier’s fake, which was rather subtle than sudden, left Trott stumbling helplessly at the UNC 40.

One minute and three seconds remaining.

But even then, the Tar Heels weren’t through. Paschall, doing a frightening imitation of Joe Namath, completed passes of 13 and 19 yards to Ray Stanford and moved the Tar Heels to the Irish 19-yard line as time expired. Paschall, who completed 11 pass for 161 yards, attempted one final aerial as the gun sounded.

The pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

The Carolina pine trees were casting their late-afternoon shadows over Kenan Stadium when the record crowd of 49,500 began heading for the exits But in the UNC student section, one young man sat for a long moment and stared at the field He shook his head sadly.

“We came so close,” he moaned. “So close ....”

And here’s a flashback video for your viewing pleasure:

Cheers & GO IRISH!