Jan. 1, 1971
DALLAS — Notre Dame’s defense caused nine Texas fumbles and All-America quarterback Joe Theismann personally accounted for three scores in the first 16 1/2 minutes en route to a 24-11 Irish victory in the 1971 Cotton Bowl Classic.
The victory, Notre Dame’s 10th against only one loss during the season, stopped the Longhorns’ 30-game winning string and knocked top-ranked Texas out of the race for its second consecutive national championship.
The decisive win was the first bowl victory in 46 years for Notre Dame, who returned to the postseason scene the year before after a 45-year absence.
Both teams displayed their offensive fireworks in the first half as the Irish built up a 24-11 advantage that held up until the final buzzer.
Texas cracked the scoring barrier early in the first period on Happy Feller’s 23-yard field goal. On the first play of the Texas possession, quarterback Eddie Phillips rambled 63 yards downfield on an option play. But the Notre Dame defense stiffened its resistance and the Longhorns had to settle for only the three-pointer.
Then, Theismann ignited the Notre Dame charge by rallying the Irish to three touchdowns on their next four possessions. The senior all-star guided the Irish 80 yards in only 10 plays and tossed a 26-yard pass to Tom Gatewood for the touchdown. The scoring march included another Theismann pass to Gatewood (this one for 17 yards) and a Theismann scamper of 12 yards, along with runs of seven, 11 and six yards by John Cieszkowski. Scott Hempel’s kick gave the Irish a 7-3 lead, and they never looked back.
Notre Dame increased its lead by seven 2 1/2 minutes later. Tom Eaton recovered a Texas fumble on the kickoff at the Longhorn 13-yard line. Six plays later, Theismann took the ball in himself on a threeyard run. Hempel again converted the PAT.
The Irish scored again on another Theismann run – this one from 15 yards – early in the second period. He helped the Irish march the 53 yards in the drive by tossing a 19-yard pass to Mike Creaney. Ed Gulyas contributed a 12-yard run.
Although the Longhorns had trouble getting their famed Wishbone attack off the ground because of a unique Notre Dame defensive alignment, Texas did manage another score in the second period. Phillips abandoned the run and went to the most rusty weapon in the Longhorn arsenal – the pass. He hit tight end Deryl Comer three times (for eight, 36 and 10 yards) in an 84-yard drive that climaxed on Jim Bertelsen’s two-yard run. A Phillips pass to Danny Lester added two points.
The Irish wrapped up the scoring on a 36-yard field goal by Hempel with 24 seconds remaining on the clock before intermission.
The second half turned into a defensive struggle as Notre Dame played it conservatively, and Texas tried to figure out the Irish defensive setup that featured six men on the line of scrimmage – with three across from the Longhorn center.
Neither team mounted much of a scoring threat. However, in the third period, the fired-up Notre Dame defense took the steam out of a promising Longhorn drive. Irish linebacker Jim Musuraca met Bertelsen head-on at the Notre Dame 35-yard line and forced another fumble, one of five recovered by the Irish, that gave the ball and the momentum to Notre Dame.
Texas, who entered the game as the nation’s top-ranked rushing team with an average of 374 yards per game, managed only 216 yards against the Irish. Phillips accumulated 164 of those yards. Notre Dame’s ground game netted only 146 yards, paced by Cieszkowski’s 52.
Phillips, who combined for 363 yards total offense, erased Theismann’s standard of 279, set the previous year. He was voted the top offense player, while Notre Dame’s Clarence Ellis earned the defensive honor.
Outstanding Defensive Player
Clarence Ellis, Left Halfback