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COLLEGE FOOTBALL SPOTLIGHT / WEEK 14

Unbeaten LoVecchio Takes It in Stride

November 26, 2000|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It has been an improbable ride for Matt LoVecchio.

He started the season as a third-stringer. Then starter Arnaz Battle suffered a broken wrist in the second game of the season. Two weeks later, backup Gary Godsey, a converted tight end, completed four of 15 passes for 20 yards in a loss to Michigan State.

That led to LoVecchio, a freshman, becoming the Notre Dame starter.

It's been like a dream. LoVecchio has led the Irish to seven consecutive victories and a likely Bowl Championship Series bid.

Victory No. 7 for LoVecchio came Saturday against USC at the Coliseum.

His statistics--nine of 14 passes for 42 yards and 11 rushes for 45 yards--hardly tell the story.

No mistakes is what LoVecchio is all about.

With no interceptions against the Trojans, LoVecchio finished the regular season with only one in the seven games. He hasn't had an interception since his first start, against Stanford. He has thrown 125 passes, with only one interception.

Carson Palmer can only drool over such a thing.

LoVecchio, who scored his first two running touchdowns of the season, became the first Irish quarterback to win his first seven games since Kevin McDougal won his first nine in 1993.

After the game, LoVecchio joined in the celebration, gathering in front of a large throng of Notre Dame fans yelling "BCS." LoVecchio held his helmet high in the air and appeared to be full of emotion.

Later, after showering, he was Mr. Cool as he talked to reporters in the Coliseum tunnel.

Although he did say this was a dream come true, when asked if he felt like pinching himself, LoVecchio said, "That's the last thing I'm going to do. I'm trying to take it all in stride and not let myself get too excited.

"I don't want to make too big a deal out of all this. I'm not 7-0, the team is."

He said he won't let himself get all wrapped up in the emotion of being Notre Dame's starting quarterback, a position held by such notables as Paul Hornung, John Huarte, Joe Theismann and Joe Montana.

"It could all get pretty overwhelming if I let it."

It was only a year ago that LoVecchio was throwing passes for Bergen Catholic High in Oradell, N.J.

But it's not as if he came out of nowhere. He led Bergen Catholic to a 12-0 record and a state championship as a junior. His team was 10-1 his senior year and also won a state title. He passed for 17 touchdowns, and rushed for 302 yards and two scores. He was rated the second-best player in the state.

So this winning thing is nothing new for LoVecchio.

"I'm been very fortunate," he said.

He said the one thing he appreciates is that the Notre Dame coaches are allowing him to run. His 45 yards rushing against USC followed 79 in 12 carries the previous Saturday in a 45-17 victory over Rutgers.

"I like to run, I feel comfortable running, particularly on the option," he said.

His 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter put Notre Dame ahead for good, 14-7.

He scored from the one on a fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter.

He actually gained 58 yards against the Trojans but had 13 yards in losses, including nine yards on one sack.

LoVecchio finished the game as the fourth-leading rusher for the Irish, but he was their leading rusher at halftime and after three quarters, his 44 net yards were only two behind leading rusher Tony Fisher.

But the key to LoVecchio is no turnovers.

Mainly because of LoVecchio, the Irish, with only eight turnovers, tied the NCAA record for fewest in a season. Clemson in 1940 and Miami of Ohio in 1966 also had eight.

"Our quarterback is remarkable," Coach Bob Davie said.

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