Jan. 1, 1988
DALLAS – For Notre Dame the 1988 Cotton Bowl closely resembled the 1987 season – a good start and a tough luck finish. The Irish, appearing in their first New Year’s Day bowl in seven years, played like the team that shut down Michigan and Alabama – for almost a half, anyway.
But Texas A&M made the most of a costly second-period Irish turnover, and the momentum and breaks went the Aggies’ direction the rest of the way as the Southwest Conference champions rolled to a 35-10 victory.
After losing the last two games of the regular season, the Irish looked like they were back on track on the opening kickoff, a 37-yard return by Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, his longest of the season.
The next three plays were Anthony Johnson left, Anthony Johnson middle, and Anthony Johnson right to pound out the first down. Then Terry Andrysiak, playing for the first time since breaking his collarbone in October, took to the air with a 29-yard strike to Brown to the Aggie 20. After two runs for short gains, Notre Dame found itself facing a third down and seven. But once again it was Andrysiak to Brown, this time for 17 yards and a touchdown.
Texas A&M missed a field goal on the next possession, but a career long 64-yard punt by Craig Stump late in the quarter put the Irish on their own two-yard line and helped get the ball back to the Aggies in a hurry. Scott Slater managed to put a 26-yarder through the uprights as time expired in the first quarter.
The second quarter started out like the first. Notre Dame scored on its first possession with a 36-yard field goal by Ted Gradel. The Irish defense held the Aggies to 23 yards on their next drive and the Irish again began to march down the field. Andrysiak to Brown for 22. Andrysiak to Brown for 24.
Andrysiak to Reggie Ward for 13. The Irish seemed unstoppable as they stood poised on the 18-yard line ready to score again.
Then, with 4:06 on the clock, the bottom fell out. A play-action pass intended to go right went left. Andrysiak’s pass to tight end Andy Heck was picked off in the end zone by Alex Morris who made a one-handed catch and barely landed in bounds. The Aggies came alive.
Backup Lance Pavlas, who alternated at quarterback with the game’s offensive MVP, Bucky Richardson, directed an 80-yard drive highlighted by a 33-yard pass to Gary Oliver. But it was freshman halfback Darren Lewis who took a pitch, stopped short and hit Tony Thompson for a 24-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The Irish took over on their own 29-yard line, but not for long. Braxston Banks dropped a short pass from Andrysiak and a controversial fumble call gave the Aggies the football. Four plays later Larry Horton drove two yards for an A&M touchdown with 0:26 left in the half. A “swinging gate” play, in which Wally Hartley ran three yards behind a wall of Aggies, gave Texas A&M the two-point conversion and an 18-10 halftime lead.
Texas A&M’s momentum continued into the second half as the Aggies drove 80 yards to the Notre Dame one-yard line on their first possession. The Irish had a chance to stem the tide when Wes Pritchett hit Matt Gurley, forcing a fumble. Brandy Wells recovered for Notre Dame in the end zone for the touchback. But on the next play tailback Mark Green fumbled the ball and Dana Batiste recovered for A&M. A defensive pass interference penalty moved the Aggies down to the eight-yard line. Then Richardson ran one yard for the touchdown.
The Aggies continued to dominate the Irish in the fourth quarter, shutting out Brown, keeping Andrysiak to only two completions and holding Notre Dame to only 76 yards in the second half. Kip Corrington stopped Andrysiak on fourth and nine on the Aggie 28-yard line early in the quarter, ending any hopes of an Irish comeback. The Aggies ran at the Irish for 59 yards, setting up a Scott Slater 25-yard field goal with 8:32 on the clock.
Corrington would haunt Andrysiak again, this time with an interception of another pass intended for Heck on the Irish 30-yard line. Texas A&M wasted no time converting the turnover into the final score of the game as Richardson ran eight yards for his second touchdown.