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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football VS Washington State, 2003

Off on the Right Foot

Holiday scrambles

Now that the last of the college football games have been played, we start the long drought that is the off-season ... at least until spring games roll around. This week for my Throwback Thursday post, I’m going to look back at the 2003 season opening matchup between Notre Dame and Washington State. The following excerpt is from the January 29, 2004 Issue of the Scholastic 2003 Football Review.

By the Numbers:

Rushing Yards: Cougars 55, Irish 167
Passing Yards: Cougars 274, Irish 149
First Downs: Cougars 15, Irish 19
Total Offense: Cougars 329, Irish 316
Turnovers: Cougars 3, Irish 4
Time of Possession: Cougars 30:47, Irish 29:13

Off on the Right Foot

by Mike Iselin

“That was a hell of a ballgame.” The first words out of Washington State’s first-year head coach Bill Doba’s mouth at the post-game press conference summed it up nicely. Irish fans around the country could breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in over three hours as they watched a 40-yard field goal by senior kicker Nick Setta sail over the crossbar and between the uprights in overtime. Setta’s overtime field goal was his fifth on the day and gave Notre Dame a 29-26 win.

This game had its ups and downs for both teams coming into the contest, and they came out ready to play. Washington State started the scoring in the first quarter when quarterback Matt Kegel connected with wide receiver Sammy Moore on a slant over the middle for a I5-yard touchdown pass. Drew Dunning’s missed extra point attempt would prove monumental later in the game.

Later, on a third down and nine for the Irish on their own 27-yard line, Virgil Williams came free from the defensive left side and blindsided senior quarterback Carlyle Holiday. The big hit popped the ball loose for defensive lineman D.D. Ancholonu to catch. Ancholonu then carried Notre Dame senior right guard Sean Milligan 10 yards on his back to the Notre Dame 11-yard line.

From there the Irish defense held strong and put up a huge goal line stand after the turnover. However, the Cougars were able to put some more points on the board on a 20-yard Dunning field goal, putting them up 9-0. Dunning added another field goal late in the first quarter, leaving the score at the end of one at 12-0 in favor of the Cougars. “Our defense did a great job of doing just enough to hold us in it,” head coach Tyrone Willingham said.

In the second quarter of this game Irish fans saw Cougar defensive lineman Isaac Brown recover a fumble and take it 12 yards for the score, putting the cougars up 19-0 with just over two minutes left until halftime. The struggling Irish received a spark on the ensuing kickoff from number 34. Dunning bounced the kickoff down to senior cornerback Vontez Duff, who fielded the ball at the 12-yard line and burst through a hole on the right side of the return wedge. Duff dashed up field, avoiding potential tacklers until Alex Teems brought him down just inside Washington State territory at the 45-yard line.

Holiday led the Irish offense onto the field with 2:29 left in the half. They mounted an eleven-play scoring drive that totaled 26 yards and ended in a Nick Setta field goal from 37 yards away. The Irish trailed at halftime 19-3.

After receiving the kickoff to start the second half, Holiday led the Irish offense straight down the field. They mounted an impressive I5-play drive that took them from their own 28- yard line down to the Cougar 14. They successfully converted three third downs during the drive, including one on a 28-yard rush by Holiday down the left sideline. The drive ended in another Setta field goal, cutting the Cougar lead to 13 points.

The defense successfully held the Cougar offense to drives of three or fewer plays on four of the six Washington State possessions in the second half, and one more in overtime.

The third quarter ended with the score 19-6, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. The Irish ran off 20 straight points in the first 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, including touchdowns from both sophomore wide receiver Rhema McKnight and senior tailback Julius Jones, who was making his first appearance with the Irish since 2001.

With three minutes left in the game, the Irish were up 26-19, but Washington State did not want to let Notre Dame off the hook that easily.

Starting from his own 20-yard line, Kegel led his team down the field for one last chance to tie the game. With 1:07 seconds left and the ball at the Notre Dame 34-yard line, Kegel called a post route down the left side of the field to wideout Sammy Moore. Kegel lofted the ball toward the end zone where Moore was covered by two Irish defenders. Moore turned back towards Kegel and made an amazing one-handed grab in the end zone. Dunning converted the extra-point attempt, tying the game at 26 and sending the two teams into overtime.

The Irish won the overtime coin toss and elected to play defense first. The Cougars chose to play at the South end of the field to stay as far away from the 8,000-plus screaming students in the northwest corner of the stadium. On third and two the Cougars came out throwing, but senior free safety Glenn Earl was there to break up the pass, forcing a 34-yard field goal attempt by Dunning after only three offensive plays for Washington State. Dunning was unable to put the ball through the uprights for a second time that afternoon, leaving Notre Dame in need of only a field goal for the victory.

The offense stepped on the field and ran two plays up the middle for a combined gain of two yards. On third down Willingham gave Setta the chance to win the game. Setta lined up from 40 yards out and booted it straight through the middle of the uprights.

Willingham would have liked a better performance out of his players in the first half, but a win is a win.

“It’s always great to win and not lose but we definitely need to improve on a lot of things, especially special teams. It’s good to get that first game out of the way and get that ‘W’ up on the board. Next week is a whole different fight and a whole different ballgame,” Earl said.

So how do you spend your offseason? Do you watch the NFL? Are you a basketball fan? A hockey fan? What will you be watching over the cold winter months?

Cheers & GO IRISH!