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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football VS USC, 1973

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“Eric Penick made an 85 yard sweep to open the second half ... and the place went beserk.” ~Frank Pomarico

Clements first touchdown over the left side. Sports Illustrated took this one about three feet behind the end zone. (comments from Frank Pomarico)

This week is the ninth week in my series on Notre Dame Football Fighting Irish national championship winning seasons, and this week I’m highlighting the 1973 match-up between Notre Dame and the USC Trojans. The below excerpt is from the 1973 Scholastic - Notre Dame Football Review, detailing the Notre Dame vs. USC game.

But before I get to that, I had the chance to speak with Frank Pomarico this week, and here are his comments on the 1973 Notre Dame vs. USC game.

“That game included an 85 yard sweep to start our second half and it blew the game open. Eric Penick, 85 yards, and the place went beserk!”

“It was probably the most intense challenge, they were so good. The two schools have such different settings. USC: sunshine, beach, California lifestyle. Notre Dame: snow, gray, school, social life fair. Ara started getting us ready the Sunday after the Army game. USC had won the national championship in 1972, and then went on to win it again in 1974.”

“It was like a heavy weight championship fight. A trilogy. Who ever won the game had a good shot at winning the national championship. Ali vs. Frazier atmosphere.”

“The coaches talked about Penick’s 85 yard run. They didn’t see the hole from the sidelines, but the crowd did because they were higher. The coaches said all of the sudden there was this building of a roar and Penick spit out the other end running like a bat out of hell. Nobody was going to get him. The place blew up. It was the game of the week on television and 90% of the people were watching it. (Teams could only be on three times per year.)”

And now, the excerpt from The Scholastic:

Southern California

“I just remember breaking free,” said Eric Penick above the tumult and shouting that was the Notre Dame locker room, “I can’t remember anything else.” Penick’s memory lapse is understandable, as he was busy out-racing several Trojan defenders to an eighty-five-yard touchdown that sent the Irish winging to a 23-14 victory over arch-rival Southern Cal. In doing so, the junior halfback from Cleveland gave a capacity crowd of over 59,000, plus an almost nationwide television audience, something to remember: Notre Dame’s first victory over the Trojans since 1966.

The Irish had been pointing for this encounter since last fall’s 45-23 debacle in California, when USC tailback Anthony Davis slashed and slithered his way through the Notre Dame defense for a record six touchdowns. That game and the subsequent Orange Bowl rout had stung the Irish pride; to redeem themselves they just had to win this game.

Actually, it was more a crusade than anything else. Blue-and-gold-clad knights in search of a holy grail that would find its rightful conclusion in the USC end zone. Not once, but again and again until the invaders from the west were vanquished. From head coach Ara Parseghian down to the lowliest equipment boy, the entire Notre Dame team had dedicated itself to a single goal: beat USC!

That week there was talk of the “best ever” practice session; spontaneous pep rallies broke out all over campus; signs and banners were hung from every available dorm window, all with their single-minded message. The psyche job had begun.

Unbeaten Southern Cal came into the game with a tie by Oklahoma, the only blemish on their record; the Irish were likewise unbeaten through their first five contests. Clearly, this game would have national repercussions. Perhaps a possible national championship even hung in the balance.

And that balance was soon tipped in favor of Notre Dame. Just ask Lynn Swann. On the first Trojan play of the game, after ND had punted, freshman cornerback Luther Bradley banked Swann so hard that he dislodged the flanker’s helmet as the intended pass fell harmlessly away.

The Trojans couldn’t move the ball on this possession and had to punt. Tim Rudnick got a hand on Jim Lucas’ kick and it went out of bounds on the USC twenty-eight. The Irish, however, couldn’t capitalize on this break completely and, after getting one first-down, had to settle for a Bob Thomas field goal from the thirty-two and a 3-0 lead with 7:08 remaining in the first period.

That the Irish wanted no part of Anthony Davis’ kick return prowess became apparent as Thomas kicked a short, spinning ball that was fielded by up-man Manfred Moore, who returned it ten yards to the thirty-five. Davis then swept left tackle for eight yards and the Trojans got another fifteen when Rudnick was penalized for a late hit. From the ND forty-two, Davis got four more on a run and then quarterback Pat Haden flipped a twenty-six-yard pass to Swann down the middle. Working from the Irish twelve now, Davis sped outside for ten yards to the two and on third down, cruised around his right end for the score. Chris Limahelu added the extra point and it was USC 7 ND 3 with 2:22 left.

That score was Davis’ seventh touchdown against Notre Dame in less than five quarters; ominous reminders of a year ago came to mind. But this was Notre Dame stadium, not the Coliseum, and the Irish defense, a year older, was able to hold the Trojan star in check for most of the game.

A short second-period punt went out of bounds on the ND forty-four and the Irish offense began moving from there. Clements tossed a fourteen yarder to split end Pete Demmerle for one first down and got another at the Trojan thirty-two on a fourth-down plunge by Art Best. They drove all the way down to the fourteen but the Southern Cal defense stiffened and Thomas came in to kick his second field goal, this one from the thirty-three, to make it 7-6 Trojans with 5:26 left till halftime.

That could have been the halftime score but Lucas came up with another short punt and Notre Dame took over at the forty-seven. With just under four minutes left to play, they began driving for the touchdown that would put them ahead for good. Russ Kornman, filling in for the injured fullback Wayne Bullock, got a first down on three successive carries. Clements hit Demmerle with a thirteen-yard pass to the SC twenty-three, and then, on second down, Demmerle stepped in front of two Trojan defenders for one of his patented diving catches at the thirteen. This brought the stadium to its feet and a television audience to the edge of their seats.

You could have cut the tension, with a knife as Clements ran a keeper up the middle for five yards down to the eight. After Penick lost a yard, Best charged over tackle to the two where, with fifty-nine seconds remaining, Notre Dame called its third, and last, time-out. Sensing an imminent score, the Irish fans were going wild as all eyes were glued to the north end zone. Bullock almost gave them what they wanted but was stacked up short at the one-foot line. Then, with thirty seconds remaining, Clements unleashed all that pent-up energy by leaping over left guard on a delay for the score. Thomas’ kick made it 13~7, the ND band struck up the “Fight Song” and the stands became a jubilant, dancing throng.

The Irish got the ball back again quickly when Bradley intercepted a Haden pass intended for Swann; but they couldn’t capitalize on it, as a final Clements’ pass went awry with time running out.

The Trojans had come into the ball game looking for the “big play.” It was those two spectacular kickoff returns by Davis that broke ND’s back last year and SC was angling for a repeat performance this time around. They got it at the start of the second half, but not in the manner they had hoped for. Following a Trojan punt, Notre Dame took over at their own fifteen-yard line. After pausing for the usual television time-out, the Irish lined up in their power rush offense: both ends in tight and a full house backfield. Penick took Clements’ pitch sweeping to his left, cut back following blocks by DiNardo and Pomarico, broke Richard Wood’s lunging tackle try at the twenty-three and then it was, katiebar~the~door as the fleet halfback outraced three Trojan defenders to pay dirt and glory. Pandemonium broke out as Thomas’ point was good and the Irish led decisively by 20-7 with 11:12 left in the third period. Penick’s long scamper was the fourth longest run from scrimmage in ND history; tying him with four others for that honor.

But the Trojans struck back quickly, displaying the talent and poise that had kept them unbeaten through twenty-three games. Haden hit Swann for thirteen yards right off and when Reggie Barnett was detected roughing J. K. McKay the former was ejected and the ball moved an extra fifteen yards forward. Swann, who snagged three passes during the seventy-yard comeback drive, got the touchdown on a near-perfect twenty-seven-yard pass from Haden over the leaping Tom Lopienski, who had come in for the departed Barnett. Limahelu made it 20-14 and suddenly it was anybody’s ball game again.

Still, the Irish would not be denied. The defense held again and Dave Boulware punted out at the Irish forty one. Notre Dame got one first down on an offside penalty and another lucky break when Russ Kornman grabbed Clements’ fumbled snap on fourth down and rushed six yards for new life at the SC thirty-two. The Irish got one more first down but could go no further than the fifteen. Thomas carrie in and booted his third three-pointer of the afternoon to give ND a healthy 23-14 edge with twenty-two seconds left in the period. It had been a most rewarding day for the soccer-style kicker, who never lost his confidence though he had missed eight straight attempts coming into the game.

Though that field goal marked the end of the scoring, it was certainly no climax to the action. The defense held, the offense held onto the ball and though it began drizzling steadily, the fourth period was a bright one for Notre Dame fans.

His primary receivers smothered by an aggressive Irish secondary, Haden drove the Trojans down to the ND twenty on passes to tight end Jim O’Bradovich. Davis, however, continued his frustrations by fumbling the ball away at the sixteen. Tom Parise, the third Irish fullback of the day, got a first down up the middle to the twenty-eight and Clements ran for another one before things bogged down and Brian Doherty boomed a high kick to Swann deep in his own territory. Surrounded by blue-and-gold, the shifty flanker was able to return it only six yards to his own twenty-six. Working from there, the Trojans drove past midfield into Irish territory but when Haden fired a twenty-three-yard pass to J. K. McKay the little split end was hit hard by Townsend and Bradley, the ball was jarred loose and pounced on by Greg Collins at the ND forty. The Irish offense moved for one first down but then Clements committed the first ND turnover of the game by fumbling at the forty-seven. Southern Cal’s Monte Doris recovered and the Trojans began moving with just under three minutes left to play.

To his credit, Haden came out firing but Bradley intercepted his pass intended for Swann at the ND twenty-nine and with 2:36 left to play it was all over but the cheering, which had never really stopped since Penick’s touchdown anyway. This last crucial turnover was again caused by the aggressive Irish “d” Since Townsend’s bump-and-run tactics had shut off the sideline route, Swann was forced to improvise and slant towards the middle instead, hoping that his quarterback would “read” the new maneuver. Haden, however, was throwing in the face of a strong rush and was unable to pick up his flanker’s move until it was too late.

With the clock running in their favor, the Irish drove down to the Trojan twenty and as time ran out, thousands of ecstatic students poured onto the field, hoisting the jubilant team and its coaches on their shoulders for a free ride to the lockers. The whole scene was reminiscent of Shea Stadium during the World Series or, closer to home, Notre Dame’s stunning Austin Carr-led upset of UCLA a few years ago.

Afterwards, in the visitors’ locker room, Trojan coach John McKay was humming the Fight Song. “There is,” he told his surprised listeners, “nothing else to hum. They won the game. That’s it. They were well prepared.” So well prepared, in fact, that the lrish offense maintained an almost 2 to 1 advantage in time of possession, 39:36 minutes to 20:24 for the Trojans. Southern Cal was able to gain just 243 yards against the charged up Notre Dame defense, with only 66 of these coming from their vaunted game. The Irish, by comparison, rolled up 316 yards on the ground and added another 85 on 7 Clements’ passes. Only three times in the final twenty-five minutes were the Trojans able to penetrate Notre Dame territory, each time being forced into costly turnovers by the alert, aggressive Irish defenders.

“I am tremendously proud of this football team of ours,” commented coach Ara Parseghian afterwards: “Southern Cal played great football during their streak, and did so today ... because their twenty-three-game streak began here at Notre Dame, I think it’s appropriate that it ended here as well. Our kids put forth a tremendous effort and they deserved to win.”·

The victory moved the Irish up to fifth place in both polls, with a healthy distance between them and sixth-ranked Penn State. However, there was an equally impressive gap between Notre Dame and fourth ranked Michigan. Along about this time, there was at least one believer outside of the Notre Dame community as the Irish garnered one first-place vote in the UPI rating.

(Bonus excerpt:)

Count Your Blessings by Frank Pomarico

At the beginning of the season, Frank was chosen as the offensive captain for the 1973 Fighting lrish. He was selected by the NCAA and the Defense Department to tour military bases in Europe during the summer, with nine other college players. His chances for capturing All-America honors were hampered when an injury forced him to watch most of the season from the sidelines. He came back willing and able for the Army game, and from there went onto make first team on the Gridiron All-America Team and second team on the UPI All-America Team.

The Sugar Bowl classic against Alabama was truly a great climax to a history~making season. It proved that all the hard work from the end of August until December 31 has really paid off. Our offense gelled through the season and produced an explosive machine, and it was complemented by an equally intimidating defense. To me, it has been a very rewarding experience to be part of one of the best teams in Notre Dame history. The Golden Dome of Notre Dame. Those words mean a great deal to me, and in the following article, I’d like to explain why.

Four years ago, when I first enrolled at Notre Dame, I was a rather innocent high school boy. While here, however, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about myself athletically and socially, and have developed my whole outlook on life. By putting all of these things together I feel like I’ve really grown into a well-rounded person.

Athletically, I feel that I’ve gotten as much out of Notre Dame as was possible for me. The people I’ve met through football have had a major impact on my athletic career and my life. Those people, mainly the coaches and other players on our team, have reached deep into my athletic ability and have brought out the best in me.

Socially, I think this is what Notre Dame is all about; to be able to coexist with other people and discover what those people from all parts of the country are like. To be exposed to the different habits and ideas of other people, I feel, is one of the greatest ways to become educated.

The final and, I feel, the most important impression Notre Dame has had on me is that it has developed my overall outlook on life. To begin with, I feel now that as long as one has his health, his friends and loved ones, well he has all the bases of all that’s really important. The reason I say this is because money, fame, or material success doesn’t seem worth very much if one doesn’t also have health and a few close friends and companions.

So be thankful for your health and close friends because they are very important; they can, at least, always help you out or help you battle back against the tough, cold world.

In looking back, I’d have to say that my four years here at Notre Dame were tough years, and that they were hard to cope with, but they also held some of the greatest moments of my life. There were, at the same time, many good times, and I would surely relive them if that were possible. But it’s not, unfortunately.

So, in closing, what I would like to say to everybody involved in the Notre Dame family is to enjoy your life and count your blessings. For life is short with many disappointments which we must overcome. At this time, I would like to wish the Irish football team of 1974 good luck in their quest for another National Championship.

Cheers & GO IRISH!