Nov. 2, 2012
By: Lou Somogyi
Last month’s 20-13 overtime victory by Notre Dame against Stanford concluded with a valiant goal-line stand to preserve the victory. “Classic!” exclaimed Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly of the moment that ended the game.
Afterwards, there was a natural inquiry: “Was this the greatest goal-line stand in Notre Dame’s history?”
Opinions are subjective, but here’s 13 we dug up, with the following criteria used:
– Did it have a bearing on a victorious outcome?
– How close was the opponent to the goal line on first down?
– At what point of the game did the stand occur?
– How good was the opponent or its short-yardage offense?
13. Oct. 21, 1995: A Key(shawn) Stop
Background: USC entered the game ranked No. 5 and had a prolific passing attack led by wideout Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. No. 17 Notre Dame held a 21-7 lead when USC faced first and goal at the two with 15 seconds left in the first half.
Result: Three straight passes into the end zone intended for Johnson fell incomplete or out of bounds, with excellent coverage provided by cornerbacks Shawn Wooden and Allen Rossum. On fourth down, defensive end Renaldo Wynn and linebacker Kinnon Tatum converged on Rodney Sermons after a short pass by quarterback Kyle Wachholtz, stopping him well short of the goal line as time expired.
Epilogue: The No. 17 Irish went on to post a 38-10 drubbing of that year’s Rose Bowl champs, and that propelled them to an Orange Bowl berth versus Florida State.
12. Sept. 9, 1974: Pepper Spray
Background: Defending national champ Notre Dame opened in prime time at Georgia Tech under new coach Pepper Rodgers, a veer specialist. The Ramblin’ Wreck trailed 10-7 when it had a first down at the Irish three-yard line midway through the second quarter.
Result: Two yards were gained to the one-yard line on first down, but tackle Steve Niehaus and linebacker Greg Collins stuffed Tech for no gain on the next two plays, respectively.
On fourth down, the Irish defense swarmed to throw running back Charles Myers for a two-yard loss, with the first hit made by safety John Dubenetzky.
Epilogue: Georgia Tech had played No. 2 Notre Dame toe to toe through the first 25 minutes, but this stand demoralized the Yellow Jackets and inspired the Irish to a 31-7 rout in Atlanta.
11. Oct. 3, 2009 vs Washington: Part I
Background: Leading 24-19 late in the third quarter, Washington had first and goal at the Irish eight yard line.
Result: Huskies halfback Chris Polk gained four yards on first down, and quarterback Jake Locker rushed for three to the one-yard line on second down. On two straight sneak attempts, though, the 6-3, 226-pound Locker was unable to break the goal-line plane. Brian Smith, Harrison Smith, Kyle McCarthy, along with Kerry Neal and freshman Manti Te’o, all were credited with stops during this sequence.
Epilogue: Buoyed by the defense’s effort, Notre Dame’s offense responded by driving 93 yards to convert a field goal and cut its deficit to 24-22, setting up even more drama (Part II) in the fourth quarter.
10. Nov. 14, 1992: Snowed Under
Background: With just over 10 minutes left in the contest and Penn State trailing 9-6 in “The Snow Bowl,” the Nittany Lions had first and goal at the one.
The Stand: On first down, Penn State tailback Richie Anderson leapt high toward the goal line but was met head-on by safety Jeff Burris for no gain. A two-yard loss on second down and a Kerry Collins incomplete pass on third down forced a game-tying field goal.
Epilogue: Limiting Penn State to three points would prove crucial in the 17-16 victory when the Irish had to score a touchdown (quarterback Rick Mirer to fullback Jerome Bettis on fourth down) and a two-point conversion (Mirer to tailback Reggie Brooks) in the final 20 seconds to win.
9. Sept. 29, 1962: The Sooners Not The Better
Background: Trailing in the opener, 13-7, the home team Oklahoma Sooners took 13 plays to give itself a first down at the Irish three-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
The Stand: Tackles by Bob Lehmann, Frank Budka and Jim Kelly held head coach Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners to two yards on the first three plays. On fourth down, Frank Minik recovered a fumbled pitchout at the 12 to help secure the win.
Epilogue: The valiant effort didn’t offset four straight losses thereafter, prompting the resignation of head coach Joe Kuharich the following spring.
8. Nov. 10, 1928: By George, They Did It!
Background: Against an Army team boasting an 11-game winning streak, including an 18-0 victory versus Notre Dame a year earlier, head coach Knute Rockne implored his Irish to “win one for the Gipper,” referring to 1920 All-America back George Gipp, who died in December of that same year. The Irish scored the go-ahead TD with 2:30 left to make it 12-6, but Army had first-and-goal at the Notre Dame 10-yard line in the closing minute.
The Stand: A five-yard penalty and two incomplete passes made it third and goal at the 15. On third down, Dick Hutchinson completed an 11-yard pass to the Irish four-yard line. On fourth down, Hutchinson plunged to within a foot of the goal line — just as time elapsed.
Epilogue: Without this stop, the famous “One for the Gipper” speech would have gone into the same oblivion as the “LSU 2011 NCAA Football National Champions” T-shirts printed prior to last year’s BCS title game (and eventually sent to Third World Countries).
7. Nov. 29, 1958: A Parting Gift
Background: In the season finale at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Terry Brennan’s 5-4 Irish led 4-4-1 USC, 20-13, early in the fourth quarter when the Trojans drove 77 yards to a first down at Notre Dame’s one-foot line.
The Stand: On first down, USC fumbled but recovered the ball at the one. On second down, Irish defenders Bob Williams and Bob Scholtz threw quarterback Tom Maudlin for a one-yard loss on a sweep, and on third down Maudlin was stopped by Frank Reynolds for no gain. On fourth down, end Myron Pottios stopped halfback Don Buford short of the goal line.
Epilogue: The Irish held on the remainder of the fourth quarter for the 20-13 victory, a parting gift for Brennan, who would be fired less than a month later. Wrote Braven Dyer of the Los Angeles Times: “Sometime, somewhere some football team may have staged a greater goal-line stand than the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame did in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s heart-stopper with the Trojans of Southern California. But I doubt it.”
6. Jan. 1, 1925: Never Say Nevers
Background: In the Rose Bowl battle for the national title, Notre Dame had held a commanding 20-3 lead over Stanford. The Indians (their nickname back then) regained momentum behind Hall-of-Fame running back Ernie Nevers, pulling within 20-10 and then intercepting an Irish pass deep in Irish territory on the second play of the fourth quarter. It then gained a new set of downs at the Notre Dame six.
The Stand: Possessing freakish size (over 200 pounds) and agility for his time, Nevers gained three on first down, but on the next play he wasn’t given the ball and there was no gain. Nevers plunged to the one on third down, and then was stopped eight inches short of the goal line on fourth down — a call disputed by Stanford head coach Pop Warner (sound familiar?).
Epilogue: Had Stanford scored, Notre Dame would have still led, but it would have been a much more precarious situation. Instead, the 27-10 victory sealed the first consensus national title in school history and immortalized the Four Horsemen — even though Nevers’ 114 yards rushing out-gained all four Irish backs combined.
5. Oct. 13, 2012: The Right Stuff
Background: The 5-0 Irish took a 20-13 lead in overtime, but a 13-yard run by Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor right through the middle gave it a first-down at the Irish four-yard line. A second overtime seemed imminent.
The Stand: The Cardinal rode Taylor all the way between the tackles, gaining one on first down and two on second. On third and goal from the one-yard line, nose guard Louis Nix III and inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese had an inside surge that created a fortress in front of the goal line. On fourth and inches, Stanford followed with the same play. This time cornerback Bennett Jackson whipped around from the backside to make initial contact, while Calabrese and his cohorts stacked up the play. Taylor made a final lunge toward the goal line, but replays helped confirm that the whistle had blown and the Irish made the stop.
Epilogue: Depending how far the Irish go this season, this goal-line stand could rise or fall in the rankings.
4. Dec. 3, 1949: That’s All She Rote
Background: In the regular-season finale at Dallas’ Cotton Bowl, the national title was on the line for Notre Dame in the final five minutes when future NFL stalwart Kyle Rote — subbing for the injured All-American Doak Walker — drove SMU, trailing 27-20, from his 21-yard line to a first down at Notre Dame’s five-yard line. At that point, Rote had run for 115 yards, passed for 146, averaged 48 yards per punt and scored all three TDs for the 27 1/2-point underdog Mustangs.
The Stand: Rusty Russell lost a yard on first down, Fred Benners threw an incomplete pass on second down and Rote picked up two yards on third down. On fourth down, Rote’s pass was intercepted at the goal line by Jerry Groom with 3:52 left.
Epilogue: Notre Dame head coach Frank Leahy stated he had never experienced so much excitement in a game than in this triumph that capped a four-year run in which the Irish were 36-0-2 and clinched their third national title in four years. The Irish players respected Rote’s effort so much, they made him an honorary member of their team.
3. Jan. 1, 1990: We Have Met The Bieniemy
Background: Minutes before the end of the first half of a scoreless game in the Orange Bowl, No. 1 and 11-0 Colorado with its vaunted triple option drove to a first down at the Irish one-yard line.
The Stand: On first down, halfback Eric Bieniemy tried to dive over the top, but safety D’Juan Francisco met him head on and the officiating crew ruled the running back didn’t break the goal line plane — much to the protest of Colorado. Quarterback Darian Hagan was stopped cold for no gain on a second-down sneak, and on third down defensive lineman Troy Ridgley forced an errant option pitch from Hagan to Bieniemy that bounced out of bounds at the three. On fourth down, Colorado set up for a field goal, but holder Jeff Campbell rolled to his right on a fake. The intended receiver got jammed at line of scrimmage, so Campbell was forced to tuck it and was stopped just short of the goal line by Ridgley.
Epilogue: The Irish seized momentum and believed the Buffaloes were “grab-bagging” with the fake. In the second half, Notre Dame took control in its 21-6 victory with a quick 14-0 advantage to finish 12-1 and No. 2 in the country, behind national champ Miami.
2. Nov. 7, 1998: A “Cloud” Of Dust
Background: Trailing the Irish 31-26, Boston College drove from its 23-yard line to a first and goal at the four-yard line with 1:07 left and no timeouts remaining for Notre Dame. Boston College featured Mike Cloud, No. 2 nationally in rushing yards per game (153.4), and an offensive line that included future NFL standouts Damien Woody (center) and Doug Brzezinski (guard).
The Stand: On first down, Cloud found an opening but linebacker Bobbie Howard closed it at the two. On second down, Howard stopped Cloud for a yard. On third down, it appeared Cloud might have broken the goal-line plane, but linebacker Jimmy Friday pushed him back. Boston College called its last timeout with 11 seconds left. On fourth down and inches from the goal line, safety Deke Cooper was instructed to pursue the run and disregard the pass or anything to the outside. He shot through the middle unblocked and nailed Cloud for a two-yard loss.
Epilogue: The dramatic stand improved the No. 13 Irish to 7-1 and kept their hopes alive for a BCS invitation. Notre Dame would win eight straight that year, tying the the longest winning streak over the past 19 years, or since 1993.
1. Oct. 3, 2009: Double Time! Part II
Background: With only 7:07 left in the contest, the Washington Huskies were leading 24-22 and on the threshold of a two-score cushion with a first and goal at the one.
The Stand(s): On first down, halfback Chris Polk lost one yard on a stop by tackle Ethan Johnson. A second-down pass by quarterback Jake Locker fell incomplete, and on third down Locker was engulfed by Irish defenders for no gain during a scramble. Alas, when Notre Dame was called for a rare roughing-the-snapper call on the ensuing fourth down field-goal attempt, it had to start all over again from the one-yard line. The defense stoned Polk for no gain on first down, and then benefited from a false start on the Huskies that pushed the ball back to the six. Safeties Harrison Smith and Kyle McCarthy stopped a five-yard completion to Paul Horner at the one. On third down, nose tackle Ian Williams and linebacker Toryan Smith gained leverage and did not permit Locker to get the final yard on a sneak, thereby forcing a field goal to make it 27-22 with 3:04 left.
Epilogue: Down only one score, the Irish moved ahead briefly, 30-27, and then won the game in overtime, 37-30. Why do we put it at the top?
– The ostensibly fatigued Irish already made a stand minutes earlier (see No. 11).
– A TD might have put the game out of reach.
– After the penalty, the Irish easily could have been demoralized against a team ranked in the top five nationally in third-down conversions.