Sept. 7, 2002
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Gerome Sapp and Lionel Bolen scored touchdowns on fumble returns 11 seconds apart, and Vontez Duff added a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown as No. 23 Notre Dame beat Purdue 24-17 on Saturday.
The Irish, who got off to an 0-3 start last season, are 2-0 without scoring an offensive touchdown.
“A team with one element not performing as well as you’d like it to for a variety of reasons, another element has to step up. I think our football team did that,” Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said.
Purdue (1-1) has lost 13 straight at Notre Dame Stadium since winning in 1974.
The Boilermakers lost three fumbles and an interception, leading to all three Notre Dame touchdowns.
“Whenever I’ve been around a closely contested football game in all the years I’ve been a coach, it comes down to one thing, and that one thing is turnovers,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said.
To be 2-0 right now is a special thing. We will build on that.Head Coach Tyrone Willingham
Duff, whose 76-yard punt return against Maryland last week put the game away, made the decisive play again by picking off Kyle Orton’s pass and returning it 33 yards for the score.
“Once I get the ball in my hand, I’m going to score,” Duff said.
Sapp was the first to score for the Irish defense, picking up a Motrell Lowe fumble and returning it 54 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Sapp broke through three tackles, spinning out of the arms of one Purdue player, then followed a convoy of seven Irish players into the end zone.
On the ensuing kickoff, Deaunte Ferrell mishandled a squib kick and ran back to the 1-yard line to pick it up. He ran to his left, but Notre Dame’s Justin Thomas drove Purdue’s Drew Rucks back into Ferrell, and the ball popped free.
Bolen caught the ball in the air at the 4-yard line and ran in for the touchdown to give the Irish a 14-0 lead.
Notre Dame’ best offensive scoring chance came on its next possession when it had first-and-goal on the 6-yard line. But Ryan Grant, who had 86 yards on 21 carries, was tackled for a 1-yard loss, and then he dropped a pass.
Quarterback Carlyle Holiday ran up the middle for a 5-yard gain, but Willingham settled for the field goal on fourth-and-2.
The Boilermakers overcame a 17-0 deficit to tie the game, scoring on a 76-yard field goal and a 3-yard run by Jerod Void. The Boilermakers appeared to have the momentum, since the Fighting Irish offense couldn’t score a touchdown.
Fans cheer as Gerome Sapp returns a fumble 54 yards for a touchdown during the second quarter.
“A couple of us on offense, we felt real embarrassed about not having scored in two games,” Holiday said. “We know as an offensive team that we have to make touchdowns. We have to work on some things to become a better ball club.”
The Boilermakers turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter but still had a chance, driving to the Notre Dame 30 on their final possession. But they lost 6 yards on a reverse to Ray Williams, stalling the drive.
On fourth-and-13, Orton was chased hard by Ryan Roberts and threw the ball away to avoid the sack.
Purdue’s defense surrendered three points, but Tiller didn’t blame the offense.
“If we score 17 points, then our defense needs to hold them to 16,” Tiller said. “If they score 24 points, then our offense has to score 25. This is a football team, this is not an offense or a defense.”
Willingham was just pleased with another win to continue building the program.
“We did some things well today and we did some things bad today,” he said. “To be 2-0 right now is a special thing. We will build on that.”