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October 13, 2012

Irish still perfect, still growing

II Game Story With Sidebar


NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Manti Te'o grabbed Brian Kelly. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Regardless, Notre Dame's heart and soul and Notre Dame's head coach weren't letting go of one another as the student body flooded an already soaked field on Saturday night.

After weeks of Irish players jumping into the stands to celebrate wins, this time the students rained down inside Notre Dame Stadium after watching one of the wildest games here in years, if not decades.

They'd just seen the No. 7 Irish (6-0) rally with back-up quarterback Tommy Rees for a 20-13 overtime victory against the No. 17 Cardinal (4-2), capped by a game-winning goal line stand.

The heavens had already opened earlier. The gates of the student section followed, engulfing Te'o and Kelly as they tried to escape the delirium for the locker room.

"Coach Kelly was like a lead blocker," Te'o said. "OK coach, I guess you're protecting me. I was trying to protect you. That was just a great atmosphere. That's Notre Dame. That's what makes this place so special, the love and pride that our fans give us."

The lovefest now continues for another week, this time against the backdrop on Sunday night's first BCS rankings. They'll provide proof to back the evidence Notre Dame showed against Stanford, that the Irish are now legitimate national title contenders.

That's a reality as bold as what Notre Dame showed on Saturday. The Irish were far from perfect, but they didn't wait for the Cardinal to give away the game either.

"They earned the win today," Kelly said. "They came from behind, right. They didn't luck into it. They won in overtime."

Stanford head coach David Shaw debated what role luck played, at least with the officials.

Shaw claimed Stanford's offense stopped playing when Matthias Farley threw Stepfan Taylor for a seven-yard loss early in the fourth quarter, forcing the Cardinal to settle for a field goal. He bristled a "no comment" about the personal foul call on the helmet hit to Everett Golson and the pass interference drawn by Tyler Eifert during Notre Dame's game-tying drive.

Shaw also said Taylor "swore" he broke the goal line on the game's final play. Replays show Taylor did break the plane with a second or third effort.

The officials said no. Then, after clearing the field to review the play, the officials said no again, officially snapping Stanford's three-game winning streak over Notre Dame.

"There's nothing else I can do about it," Shaw said. "I'm not going to comment on the officials."

Shaw didn't want to talk much about Notre Dame either, as the Irish defense didn't allow a touchdown for the fourth straight game, the offense rediscovered Tyler Eifert and Kelly called on Rees again.

Golson went down when he took a hit to the helmet from defensive back Usua Amanam, ending his down-and-up afternoon. Golson lost three fumbles, including one in the Irish end zone that Chase Thomas recovered for a second quarter touchdown. But Golson also got the Irish on track in the second half until his injury.

The sophomore finished 12-of-24 for 141 yards and one touchdown to go with 15 carries for 41 yards and the three turnovers. The scoring pass went 24 yards to Eifert against double coverage, put where only the All-American tight end could get it.

"He grew up," Kelly said. "I know it wasn't as clean and the numbers, you can analyze them and say, 'Well, didn't play well.' All I can tell you is that in his growth, he did some things for me as the head coach that allow us to keep progressing with Everett."

Rees was almost flawless in relief, finishing off the game-tying drive, then going 3-of-3 in overtime for 32 yards, including the game-winning touchdown to TJ Jones. The junior caught the low pass from Rees in front of the Stanford secondary, falling down to make the grab.

"Great receivers do that," Kelly said. "They come back and get the football. They don't stand waiting for it."

Stanford responded by jamming the ball down Notre Dame's throat, marching to a first down at the four-yard line. Four carries and three yards by Taylor later, the game was over. The Irish shared tackles on all four of those winning stops, the final takedown of Taylor shared by Bennett Jackson and Carlo Calabrese, at least in the score sheet.

Notre Dame could have divided it 11 ways.

"Just a lot of men stacked up on top of each other," Louis Nix said of the view. "A lot of us."

Te'o led Notre Dame with 11 tackles, Zeke Motta punished Stanford running backs, Farley posted a 49-yard interception return while Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore shared the only Irish sack.

The Irish held the Cardinal to just 272 yards total offense, the fifth straight game keeping the opposition under 300 yards.

"To be able to have the mental toughness and the passion and the will to win, to come out on top like that, it speaks volumes about our team," Motta said. "It's one of the toughest, most physical games we've played all season.

"To fight and to come out on top just shows the way that our team is, you don't have to say much more."





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