Dec. 27, 1976
JACKSONVILLE — Al Hunter ignited the Notre Dame offense and tallied a pair of first-half touchdowns to spark the Fighting Irish to a 20-9 win over Penn State in the Gator Bowl before a crowd of 67,827. Hunter, who became the first Notre Dame back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season, scored in each of the initial two periods.
After the Nittany Lions jumped out to a short-lived 3-0 lead on Tony Capozzoli’s 26-yard field goal, Terry Eurick helped the Irish effort with a kickoff return of 65 yards. Hunter put together runs of six and nine yards before crossing the goal line on a one-yard dive. Dave Reeve added the extra point and the Irish were ahead for good.
In the second quarter Jim Browner recovered a Penn State fumble at the Nittany Lion 23-yard line. Six plays later, including a 12-yard pass from quarterback Rick Slager to Dan Kelleher, Reeve added three points to the Notre Dame total with a 23-yard field goal.
Notre Dame’s offense continued its surge with another touchdown by Hunter. This time the Irish covered 51 yards in 10 plays. Slager tossed a pair of 12-yard passes to tight end Ken MacAfee and a 13-yarder to Hunter to move the Irish downfield. Hunter contributed an 11-yard gallop before scoring on a one-yard run. Reeve’s kick made it Notre Dame 17, Penn State 3.
With only two seconds remaining on the clock before halftime, the Irish boosted their lead to 20-3 on another 23-yard field goal by Reeve. That Irish drive was helped by a punt interference call against Penn State, one of six penalties assessed against the Nittany Lions during the game.
Led by linebackers Bob Golic, Doug Becker and Steve Heimkreiter and strong safety Jim Browner, the Irish defense clamped down on Penn State’s usually proficient offense. Notre Dame never allowed the Lions beyond their own 32 in the first half after their initial possession.
And despite good yardage totals in the second half, Penn State was unable to score a touchdown until Bruce Clark blocked a punt deep in Notre Dame territory with 9:14 left in the game. Quarterback Chuck Fusina tossed an eight-yard pass to Matt Suhey on the second play from scrimmage for the score.
The Nittany Lions’ two-point conversion attempt failed.
Penn State edged the Irish in total offense by one yard – gaining 274 yards to 273 for Notre Dame. The Nittany Lions gained 156 yards on the ground compared to the Irish total of 132. But 15th-ranked Notre Dame edged the Lions 141-118 in the passing department.
Hunter was the leading rusher in the game, gaining 102 yards on 26 carries. Bob Torrey paced the Nittany Lions with 63 yards in 12 tries. Suhey added 40.
Slager completed 10 of 19 passes for 141 yards, while Fusina was successful on 14 of 33 attempts. He also threw two interceptions.
MacAfee headed the Irish receiving corps with five catches for 78 yards. Kelleher hauled in three receptions for 46 yards.
The victory, Notre Dame’s third consecutive win in postseason competition, gave coach Dan Devine a 9-3 record for the 1975 campaign, his second season with the Irish. Penn State, under the direction of coach Joe Paterno, fell to 7-5.
Most Valuable Player
Al Hunter, Left Halfback