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Notre Dame Rushes Back Into the BCS Picture

Nonconference: Irish gain 380 yards on ground in 28-16 victory over Boston College.


SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame's improbable march back into national collegiate football prominence chugged forward here Saturday, with a 28-16 victory over Boston College.

Suddenly, a team that was not supposed to be remembered for much here, other than the likelihood that it would get its coach fired, is now thinking about the New Year's holiday in places such as New Orleans or Tempe.

Notre Dame has a 7-2 record, and all that is left in the way of a 9-2 record and a BCS postseason invitation to either the Sugar Bowl or Fiesta Bowl--where the elite go to win friends, influence recruits and make gobs of money--are Rutgers and USC.

Both are beatable, especially by an Irish team that seemed to find remnants of Notre Dame lore in this game.

An Irish offensive line that tops 300 pounds at four spots, somehow tolerating skinny center Jeff Faine at 290, moved forward with enough gusto to bring 380 yards rushing.

"They lined up and mashed us," said Boston College Coach Tom O'Brien, whose defensive line had, for the much of the game, four freshmen.

So effective was the Irish rushing game that Tony Fisher, who received extra playing time in the game only because starter Julius Jones bruised a thigh in the first half and never returned, gained 196 yards. That was the 11th-best single-game rushing mark in the school's history, and was the best performance by an Irish running back since Reggie Brooks gained 227 in 1992.

That was against USC, a team going through the same kind of hell this season that Notre Dame did last year, when it lost its last four, including late collapses against Boston College and Stanford, and finished with a 5-7 record and lots of time around the house for the holidays.

The Reggie Brooks game was in the Coliseum. Notre Dame will play the Trojans there Nov. 25, and assuming the Irish beat Rutgers next Saturday, the Coliseum will, once again, be the stage for all the things that make the rivalry great: rabid fans, huge egos and lots of hate. So many times over the years, it has come down to this, with one team or the other headed for big things and the other headed nowhere. And the frequent winner? The team headed nowhere, of course.

In a typically raw, bone-chilling late autumn afternoon in northern Indiana, Notre Dame converted the first break it got and never looked back.

Boston College sent reserve sophomore quarterback Brian St. Pierre into the lions' den, housing the usual sellout of 80,653, and did so only because veteran Matt Hasselback hurt his leg last Saturday with a 21-0 lead against Temple. Last year, Hasselback led Boston College to a 31-29 shocker here, and when the game ended, a couple of Boston College players tore pieces of Notre Dame Stadium turf out and held them high for all to see. Photos of that were prominent around here this week.

So when St. Pierre tossed a duck in the first series that dipped off one of his receivers and into the hands of Notre Dame's Anthony Weaver, the Irish banged home in three plays, Jones going the last yard, and the turf war had begun.

Before the half ended, Fisher scored on a 37-yard run that ended a 98-yard drive. Notre Dame ran 10 plays on the drive, all rushes, and took a 14-3 lead into halftime. Fisher got another touchdown for 21-3 and then Notre Dame's special teams, which have truly been special all season, finished it with a special touchdown.

The Irish lead was down to 21-10, there were just under two minutes left in the third quarter, and Boston College had forced a field goal. The Irish lined up for a 22-yard effort, walk-on holder Adam Tibble kneeling for the snap and sophomore Nick Setta, the smallest player on the team at 169 pounds, poised for the kick. But when the snap came, Tibble took it on the rise, headed to his left like an option quarterback and, at the last second, pitched to Setta, who waltzed into the end zone untouched. It was 28-10 and the hill for Boston College was too high to climb.

"I've never seen Notre Dame run that," O'Brien said.

Irish Coach Bob Davie said Tibble and Setta practice the play all the time, but they had not been able to convince him, until Saturday, to run it.

Davie entered this, his fourth season, with a 21-16 record. That works most places, but not under the Golden Dome, where 9-2 seasons are considered rebuilding years.

After taking Notre Dame to the Independence Bowl his first season, an embarrassment to most Irish fans, and then losing to Louisiana State, 27-9, he got the Irish back to 9-3 in '98, but lost in the Gator Bowl to Georgia Tech, 35-28. Then, last year's 5-7 and no bowl, plus a 2-2 start this year, had the big alums on conference calls, arguing over who would write the big check for the contract buyout.

But Davie won the next four, including the Oct. 28 escape when the Irish blocked a short Air Force field goal on the last play of regulation that would have won the game, and the Leprechauns started dancing here again. Now, he has been nominated by Football News magazine as a semifinalist for coach of the year.

Afterward, he was happy, but not giddy.

"I think we're getting better," he said.

He was probably being a bit coy, just in case there were any Trojans listening.

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