SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame came dressed for a special occasion, donning its green jerseys for the first time in three years. But Boston College stripped the Irish of their hopes for an undefeated season with a 14-7 triumph yesterday before a stunned Notre Dame Stadium crowd of 80,935.
And while they were well aware of the pomp and pageantry of Notre Dame football and its Return to Glory under first-year coach Ty Willingham, none of it seemed to intimidate the Eagles.
Not Touchdown Jesus. Not the Golden Dome. Not the legends of Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen. And certainly not the unsightly green garb the Irish chose to wear.
“It’s special, it really is, the tradition here and everything else,” said BC quarterback Brian St. Pierre, who acknowledged he was a Notre Dame fan in 1993 when the Eagles toppled the unbeaten, top-ranked Irish, 41-39, here. “And then to see them come out with the green jerseys ... I was in the tunnel when that happened.”
St. Pierre was with fellow captain Vinny Ciurciu, waiting to take the field.
“Then a green wave just came running right by us, screaming, and the fans going nuts,” said St. Pierre.
It was an attempt by Willingham to create yet another Notre Dame moment in the Irish’s unexpected 8-0 run and No. 4 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
“We have been talking about the sea of green all season, and I wanted to get our team involved in it,” Willingham said. “The sea of green is important, because it talks about attitude. It talks about the Notre Dame family and the football team coming together as one.”
But the motivational ploy backfired on the Irish as it galvanized their opponents from Chestnut Hill.
“We were ready to go and they were, too,” said St. Pierre, who completed 9 of 20 passes for 77 yards. “And one of their players said to me, `Not today, it ain’t happening today.’ I didn’t say anything back to him but I was just like, `We’ll see about that.’ And we went out and we took it from ‘em.”
“Well, obviously, we have a very excited locker room coming off a very hard loss this week,” said BC coach Tom O’Brien, whose team rebounded from a 19-16 overtime road loss against Pittsburgh to improve to 5-3. “It’s a great day for Boston College.”
The Eagles snapped a 23-game regular-season losing skein against ranked opponents and recorded their first win over a Top 5 team since the 1993 Notre Dame upset. Although the Eagles scored a 20-16 triumph over No. 20 Georgia in the Music City Bowl last December, the last time BC beat a ranked opponent during the regular season was in 1995 when it defeated No. 20 Virginia Tech, 20-14, in Blacksburg, Va.
“I’m sure it was the same in ‘93, I guess,” said senior center Dan Koppen. “I mean we didn’t beat the No. 1 team today, so that’s got to feel a little bit better, but it can’t be that much better than this.”
The Eagles yesterday relied upon the running of Derrick Knight (26 carries, 129 yards, 1 touchdown) and an opportunistic defense that collected five Notre Dame turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions).
BC’s only scoring drive was highlighted by a spectacular grab by senior wideout Keith Hemmings who stripped Shane Walton of an apparent interception for a 17-yard gain on a critical third-and-14 from the Notre Dame 42.
“I just had to be aggressive with the ball,” Hemmings said. “I just tried to attack it.”
So, too, did BC’s defense.
In addition to the five turnovers, the Eagles also prevented Notre Dame from scoring on its first five trips to the red zone.
The Irish entered having converted 21 of 24 red-zone chances.
ND turned it over on downs at the BC 20 on its first possession then David Miller botched the hold on Nick Setta’s 35-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter. Josh Ott returned a poor shovel pass by backup QB Pat Dillingham for a 71-yard score, giving BC a 14-0 advantage at halftime.
But Notre Dame’s missed opportunities (and miscues) kept coming in droves in the second half when Marcus Wilson fumbled at the BC 11, and Tim Bulman recovered for the Eagles at the 19. On the next play, Gerome Sapp made a diving interception of a St. Pierre pass intended for tight end Sean Ryan. Two plays later, however, Ryan Grant, coughed it up for the second time, at the BC 16, with Bulman pouncing again for the Eagles at the BC 22.
“A wounded dog is most dangerous,” said Ott, referring to a battered BC defense which has lost three starters for the season because of injuries.
“But we have people who can back everyone up,” Ott said. “It was a team effort.”
With Ott, a 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pound linebacker from Silver Spring, Md., leading the way. Ott registered 12 tackles, a fumble recovery, and a pair of pass deflections, to go with his 71-yard interception return for a touchdown.
It proved to be the costliest of Notre Dame’s turnovers, since it enabled the Eagles to take a 14-0 lead with 4:03 left before intermission. Dillingham, who entered the game after starting QB Carlyle Holiday came up woozy after getting drilled by Ralph Parent, made the pass when BC senior Trevor White came through on a corner blitz.
“You don’t know when everything is going to come to you,” Ott said. “But the trick is to always be around the ball, and eventually something good is going to happen. While I was running, I just kept thinking, `Don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip.’ “
The only slip-up BC’s defense suffered was when it allowed the Irish to mount an eight-play, 69-yard drive late in the fourth that culminated in Holiday’s 20-yard TD strike to Maurice Stovall. Holiday, who returned to the game in the third, eluded a pair of would-be tacklers, rolled to his right, and found Stovall, pulling the hosts within a touchdown with 2:25 to go.
BC’s offense, behind Knight’s gritty running, managed to whittle down the clock inside of 20 seconds before punting it back to Notre Dame with 12 seconds left.
By then, however, it was apparent the Luck of the Irish had run its course.
“I hope not,” said Koppen with a laugh. “Because I’m Irish, too.”
Koppen, though, like the rest of his teammates, came dressed to this Irish wake in the winning colors of the day: maroon and gold.