April 22, 2006
Placekicker Carl Gioia kicked a 20-yard field goal as time expired to give the Blue Team a 10-7 victory over the Gold Team in Notre Dame’s 77th Annual Blue-Gold Spring Football Game Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
A spring game-record crowd of 41,279 watched head coach Charlie Weis’s 2006 edition of the Fighting Irish for the first time on a sun-splashed day. Using an innovative split-squad format, Weis split the team into two units bolstered by a third, green-clad group of offensive linemen and kicking specialists who served both squads. The game was set up to feature the starting offense and defense facing each other exclusively, as well as exclusive competition by the reserves against other backup players.
The result was a close battle throughout where the scoring opportunities were limited both by tough defense and a continuously running game clock that shortened the contest considerably.
The Blue Team broke out to a 7-0 halftime lead late in the second period when quarterback Brady Quinn connected with wide receiver Jeff Samardzija on a 35-yard scoring pass. The play capped a 10-play, 92-yard march for the starting offense against the first-team defense that consumed 6:55 of game clock.
The Gold Team tied it up at 7-7 in the third period when backup tailback Travis Thomas took a handoff and raced 83 yards for a touchdown with 4:11 left. Thomas outran backup cornerback Leo Ferrine to the end zone, diving to pay dirt to cap the run. Thomas earned Offensive Most Valuable Player honors in the game, rushing for 104 yards on eight carries (13-yard average). He also caught one pass for five yards.
The game was decided by the first-team offense against the first-team defense. The starters took over at their own 21-yard line with 7:45 remaining in the game and proceeded to march 76 yards in nine plays to Gioia’s winning kick. A 16-yard pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 50-yard line, and then Quinn connected with Samardzija for a 22-yard play to the Gold 28.
Tailback Darius Walker then took over, rushing for gains of nine, seven, nine and six yards on consecutive plays to take the Blue Team to the Gold two-yards line and a first-and-goal situation with three seconds remaining. From there, it was Gioia’s time to shine and he ended the game with the chip shot field goal after missing attempts from 33 and 20 yards earlier in the game, one for each team in the game.
Weis’s plan to field a competitive, safe and quick contest worked out pretty well. The game was closely contested, there were no apparent injuries, and fans were treated to an entertaining afternoon. Statistically, the game was as close as the score indicated. The Blue Team outgained the Gold Team by a 252-to-227 margin. While the Gold Team outgained the Blue on the ground (107 to 71), the Blue Team outgained the Gold unit through the air by a margin of 181 to 120.
Individually, Thomas led all rushers to lead the Gold Team while Walker led the Blue squad with 78 yards on 13 carries including a long rush of 31 yards. Walker also caught five passes for 42 yards and Samardzija led the way with five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown for the Blue. David Grimes led the Gold Team with five catches for 34 yards.
Quinn completed 16 of 25 pass attempts for 181 yards and a touchdown. Evan Sharpley completed 10 of 12 attempts for 112 yards, including a 40-yard completion to Darrin Bragg, the longest pass play of the day.
Punter Geoff Price, working for both teams, averaged 32.5 yards per attempt on four punts, including a 50-yarder.
Irish defenders managed five quarterback sacks on the day, led by two sacks by Defensive MVP Trevor Laws. A defensive tackle, Laws ended the day with six total tackles, including the two sacks for 13 yards in losses. Laws and Blue linebacker Mitchell Thomas shared the team lead in stops for the Blue Team. The game’s top tackler was safety Ray Herring, who had seven total tackles for the Gold Team. Ambrose Wooden collected an interception of a Brady Quinn pass. Other players with sacks were linebacker Scott Smith, defensive end Justin Brown and defensive tackle Derrell Hand.