Replay Coney

Replay: Irish Enjoy Every Senior Moment

Maybe it was those two Florida State turnovers in the first 8:21.

Maybe it was that definitive, heavy dose of Dexter Williams (as in his career-high 202 rushing yards).

Maybe it was quarterback Brandon Wimbush, doing exactly what Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and Wimbush’s teammates expected him to do all along.

“He led our football team when we needed him,” said Kelly.

Maybe it was those season-high 365 rushing yards — and maybe they came in part because it was the first time in 2018 Williams and Wimbush played together.

Maybe it was a little bit of the cold (27 degrees at kickoff).

Maybe it was the Irish defense, that thwarted the Seminoles at virtually every turn, even when Florida State’s desperation prompted six fourth-down attempts.

“We bowed up when we needed to, to keep the points down,” said Kelly.

Maybe it was the onrushing freight train that was a combination of Irish November momentum, dominating play and the emotion of those 32 seniors who had every intention of winning their 11th straight home game.

Maybe it was some of all those storylines that rolled the frigid evening into a nice — mostly tidy — ball that comprised No. 3 Notre Dame’s 11th consecutive overall victory, a 42-13 thrashing of Florida State Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium.

“We’ve been doing this for two and a half months, 10 weeks, right?” said Kelly to his squad before it started. “So we know how to play this game. We play the same way week in and week out to the standard. We live up to that standard.

“We’ve added another challenge to that in the way we play today. We’ve elevated the standard by every play, six seconds, a sense of urgency, an attitude that has changed. We have changed the marker. We play at a different style every single play — relentless attitude for four quarters. We make a statement tonight. There isn’t any other way. We’re going to send a message early on and we’re going to do it for four quarters, not for two quarters.

“When we come in here at halftime we’re going to say the same thing. We’re not letting down. There are no peaks and valleys. There is only one way to play today and that’s full throttle for 72 plays.

“New standard, new marker, let’s get to it.”

Two offensive plays in for Florida State, the Irish had intercepted Deondre Francois and sat at the Florida State three.

Two offensive plays in for Notre Dame, Wimbush already had himself a touchdown pass.

Tight end Alizé Mack (he earned the game ball with a pair of lovely end-zone TD receptions) made the first of those at 6:51 to finish an 81-yard drive.

When Justin Yoon connected from 26 yards after the Seminoles fumbled, Kelly’s squad already had sucked much of the drama out of this one by taking a 17-0 lead barely nine minutes into the contest.

Even when the visitors scored their first touchdown, the Irish walked away with the momentum when Jerry Tillery blocked the attempted PAT and Julian Love ran it back for two points.

Less than two minutes later, Williams’ 58-yard dash up the middle of the field proved a dagger.

The Irish looked every bit like the third-ranked team in the country.

Notre Dame’s 32 first-half points marked their most in a half in 2018.

Said Kelly at halftime in the locker room, “So tell me how this is going to go? It’s your call. We can go out there and be complacent, which lacks a sense of urgency, or what I talked about when we got together. We can either finish this the right way or we just become one of those other teams that has been here over the years that doesn’t finish. This should be a dominating performance for four quarters. There is no letup.

“We roll right through the third and fourth quarter if you truly want to make your mark — you have the opportunity to do that. This is your choice, okay? Go own it — go own the second half.

“Let’s go make a statement in the last half in this stadium as to what we want when we walk out of here.

“Let’s go play.”

Wimbush threw interceptions on two of Notre Dame’s first three second-half possessions — yet it told fans something about how the night played out when those were minor blips on the radar.

Williams added another demoralizing 32-yard touchdown dash to end the scoring.

No one had gained that many rushing yards individually against the Seminoles since 1982.

The Irish team rushing total marked almost 100 yards more than in any other 2018 outing — the high had been 272 against Stanford.

Notre Dame ran for 143 more yards than the ‘Noles had permitted in any other 2018 contest.

“That’s 11 in a row at home,” said Kelly. “More importantly, it checks the second goal we had back in January. No. 1 was to beat Michigan — we got that one covered. No. 2 was protect our house — and we won all our games at home. Third was win in November — we’ve got two down and two to go. We’re halfway there.

“Congratulations. That was 42-13, and I don’t know how you look at it, but when I look at it that’s a dominating performance. Any time you go and you play a team that has talent and you win the way you did today, that’s a dominating performance. It takes a lot to get to that level. It takes all the work you did during the week.

“They don’t come easy. You have another team on the other side of the ball that’s on scholarship and does not want that to happen to them. Nobody that has pride in playing this game wants to have that happen to them.

“That’s a great victory over an opponent that did not want to be beat that way. But you exerted your will. Your presence was there today and you got it done.”

The Irish have posted 10 wins for the second straight year — something that has not happened at Notre Dame since 1991-92-93.

“All you want to do is win,” said defensive lineman Daelin Hayes after it was over.

Syracuse lies ahead next week in a Yankee Stadium matinee.

With a glint in his eye, Kelly even kiddingly invited a quarterback quandary: “Who says Ian (Book) is the starter? I thought Wimbush was great. We’ll see ….”

As the clock tolled midnight, captains Drue Tranquill and Tyler Newsome remained on the football field in full uniform, with a few friends and family, in an otherwise deserted venue.

They desperately wanted to soak in every last moment and experience.

In the end, those 32 seniors could hardly have better scripted the night.

It’ll be up to them to determine how the final chapters read.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.