Sept. 9, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – (AP) – Not yet, Notre Dame.
Eric Crouch ran 7 yards for a touchdown in overtime as No. 1 Nebraska fought off No. 23 Notre Dame 27-24 on Saturday in a game matching two of college football’s most storied programs.
The Irish, who rallied from a two-touchdown deficit with long kickoff and punt returns for scores, took their first lead at 24-21 when Nick Setta kicked a 29-yard field goal on the opening OT possession. The Huskers’ Jeremy Slechter sacked Arnaz Battle for a 6-yard loss on a third-and-goal from the 4 before the kick.
But the Huskers would not be denied against a team trying to return to national prominence after four years of mediocrity under coach Bob Davie.
Starting at their own 25-yard line on the second OT possession, the Cornhuskers faced a third-and-9 from the 24. But Crouch hit Tracey Wistrom with a 9-yard pass to keep the drive alive. Dan Alexander burst up the middle for 8 yards, and then Crouch took the next snap, rolled left and ran into the end zone untouched for the winning score.
Nebraska players ran onto the field to celebrate in front of a sellout crowd of 80,232 at Notre Dame Stadium, many of whom traveled 500 miles from Nebraska to root on the Huskers.
Nebraska was involved in the last OT game played by a No. 1 team. The Cornhuskers beat Missouri 45-38 on Nov. 1997.
Notre Dame, which had beaten the last to No. 1’s to show up in South Bend – Florida State in 1993 and Miami in 1988 – dropped to 8-14-1 against top-ranked teams.
Even in defeat, the Irish certainly gained a great deal of respect by playing toe-to-toe with the nation’s best team.
Crouch had with three TDs on runs of 62, 1 and 7 yards, and finished with 16 carries for 80 yards. The quarterback was 7-of-15 for 103 yards and an interception. Dan Alexander carried 24 times for 112 yards and a TD.
For Notre Dame, Battle carried 14 times for 107 yards and completed just 3 of 15 passes for 40 yards.
While Nebraska (2-0) improved to 3-0 in OT games since they were reinstated in 1996, Notre Dame (1-1) fell to 0-3 in overtime.
The Irish entered the game as two-touchdown underdogs and given little chance to upset the powerful Cornhuskers, college football’s winningest team the past two decades with 211 victories.
But even though Notre Dame appeared to be outmuscled, they were not outplayed.
Trailing 21-7 with 8:47 left in the third quarter, the Irish came up with two electrifying plays to wake up the crowd and tie the game at 21.
First, Julius Jones returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown with 8:30 left. The run occurred just after the Huskers scored on Alexander’s 28-yard run. Jones broke to his left and just outraced the Nebraska defense.
It was the second 100-yard kick return in Irish history – the other 100-yarder was in 1993, by Clint Johnson against Stanford.
Early in the fourth quarter, Joey Geatherall fielded a punt at the 13, then took off up the middle, faked out punter Dan Hadenfeldt and finished off an 83-yard punt return with 12:48 left in the games.
Neither team was able to muster a scoring chance in the final 12 minutes, although the Irish moved to the Huskers’ 32 but Battle threw incomplete to tight end Dan O’Leary.
Nebraska opened the scoring in dramatic style on Crouch’s 62-yard run – the longest TD run against the Irish since 1984, when LSU’s Dalton Hilliard went 66 yards.
Crouch, who ran for three TDs and threw for another in last week’s rout of San Jose State, went right on the option, weaved his way through the defense and then outraced the secondary into the end zone with 1:10 left in the first quarter,
But the Irish came back on their next possession and Tony Fisher capped an 82-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run 4:16 into the second period. Battle had runs of 14 and 19 yards, the 19-yarder going down to the Nebraska 5.
Then Nebraska went on one of its patented drives – 14 running plays, one pass – that resulted in Crouch’s 1-yard TD run on a fourth down play with 2:24 left in the half. Crouch ran seven times for 26 yards and had an 11-yard completion to Matt Davison.
As the stadium filled prior to the game, it was clear this would be a day to remember. For the first time in as long as any longtime Irish fans could remember, about a third of the seats were filled with people wearing Huskers red.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 fans were expected to make the 500-mile trip from Nebraska to Notre Dame although the Huskers were allotted just 4,000 tickets. Clearly, most of those who showed up, got into the stadium by purchasing tickets from Notre Dame ticket holders, a development Irish athletic director Kevin White was not happy with.
“When I was on the field before the game I wish I was color blind,” White said. “Disappointing, very disappointing.”