April 24, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Quarterback Brady Quinn completed 17 of 22 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown, helping the Blue team defeat the Gold, 35-7, in the 75th annual Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Game on Saturday before a crowd of 18,469 at Notre Dame Stadium. Quinn’s Blue squad was comprised mainly of first-teamers and they did not disappoint, scoring five times on six possessions and rolling up 363 yards of offense on 36 plays, despite a running clock and 12-minute quarters.
Quinn, who earned the Offensive Player of the Game award, was deadly efficient all afternoon long, guiding his charges to 18 first downs and four scoring drives of at least 70 yards. Running back Ryan Grant chipped in with a pair of touchdowns on the ground and fullback Rashon Powers-Neal also had two scores (one rushing, one receiving) to help the Blue team to the victory. Wide receiver Jeff Samardzija played for both teams in the game and led all Irish pass catchers with three receptions for 59 yards, including the Gold’s only TD, a 24-yard catch from quarterback Pat Dillingham in the third quarter.
Blue free safety Tom Zbikowski was named the Defensive Player of the Game after coming up with a 31-yard interception return and nearly adding a second pick, which was wiped out by a penalty. Linebacker Derek Curry led the Blue defense with four tackles, including two for loss and a seven-yard sack. His fellow linebackers, Brandon Hoyte and Mike Goolsby, also registered four tackles apiece. For the Gold team, six different players shared team-high honors with four tackles.
After Gold’s Chase Anastasio returned the opening kickoff up to his 43-yard line, the Gold team took the ball first, but lost five yards on three plays, due in part to a fumbled pitch on the opening snap. The Blue side then took over at its own 34-yard line and promptly marched 66 yards in seven plays, with the big play being a 15-yard completion from Quinn to Grant on third-and-10 at the Gold 42. Two plays later, Grant sliced off left tackle and went 16 yards to put the Blue team ahead, 7-0 at the 3:23 mark.
The Blue defense forced another “three-and-out” and after punter Geoffrey Price boomed a 55-yard kick into the end zone, the Blues went back on the offensive. This time, they put together a seven-play, 80-yard drive that was highlighted by a nifty 30-yard reception from tight end Billy Palmer, who had to reach back and pull in the pigskin one-handed. Grant capped off the drive with his second touchdown of the day from five yards out and the Blue team was up, 14-0 with 6:11 left in the first half.
Gold manufactured its first sustained threat on the next possession, as Dillingham connected with tight end John Carlson on an 18-yard strike to put the ball on the Blue 44-yard line. However, three plays later, the Golds were one yard further back and called on Price to punt once more. The Irish kicker came through with a 43-yard punt that was downed at the Blue two-yard line with 1:45 left in the half. It was one of several solid kicks on the day for Price, who averaged 46.2 yards on six punts.
Backed up in the shadow of their own goal line, the Blue team fashioned a superb two-minute offensive series, going end zone to end zone in just 90 seconds. Quinn and Samardzija hooked up on a 26-yard pass play, followed by a pair of connections between Quinn and wide receiver Rhema McKnight (16 and eight yards) to push the Blues across midfield. A pass interference penalty in the end zone helped put the ball down on the four-yard line and Powers-Neal did the rest, bulling across the goal line to hand the Blue side a 21-0 halftime lead. Quinn wound up completing all four of his passes for 60 yards during the last-minute drive.
The Gold team put together a spirited defensive stand to begin the second half, forcing the Blues into their only “three-and-out” of the game. A short punt gave the Golds good field position at the Blue 39-yard line and Dillingham took his unit the distance in only three plays, punctuating the drive with his pass to Samardzija.
However, as quickly as the Gold team found pay dirt, the Blue squad responded. Two plays after the Samardzija score, Quinn rolled out and found Powers-Neal downfield – the Irish fullback danced out of the arms of a would-be tackler and raced 59 yards to give the Blues a 28-7 lead with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter.
After the Gold team could not find the solution on its next series, the Blue team capped off the scoring with an impressive nine-play, 56-yard march that chewed up more than five minutes off the clock. Tight end Jared Clark caught a pair of passes for 28 yards and fullback Josh Schmidt finished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge at the 1:56 mark.
Saturday’s game completed the spring season for Notre Dame. The Irish will open their 2004 season Sept. 11 when they play host to Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.
— ND —
NOTES: A number of former Irish players returned to campus for the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday and many of them were present in the Notre Dame locker room after the game. Among those making an appearance were Jeff Faine (currently with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns), Tony Fisher (Green Bay Packers), Lance Legree (New York Giants), Pat Terrell, Shane Walton (St. Louis Rams) and 17-year NFL veteran QB Steve Beuerlein (Denver Broncos), who spoke to the team following the game … Grant and Powers-Neal were the first Irish players to score two TDs in the Blue-Gold Game since David Givens caught two touchdown passes in the 2001 contest … the 59-yard scoring pass from Quinn to Powers-Neal was the longest TD pass in the Blue-Gold Game since Arnaz Battle connected with Javin Hunter on a 67-yard strike in 1999 … the 35 points scored by the Blue team were the most in the conventional scoring format since the Blue team won 49-10 in 1999 … following Saturday’s game, Samardzija hopped on a plane for Pittsburgh, where he is scheduled to join the Irish baseball team and start the nightcap of Sunday’s BIG EAST Conference doubleheader with the Panthers.