July 25, 2009
Notre Dame won a football game today halfway across the world in typical Lou Holtz fashion. The Irish dominated the line of scrimmage, ran for nearly 300 yards, needed only one pass completion — and got all kinds of help from an opportunistic defense.
All that translated into a 19-3 Irish Legends victory over the Japan National team in front of 21,080 at the Tokyo Dome.
Japan claimed an early 3-0 lead, but it was all Irish from there.
Jay Vickers earned the Notre Dame MVP award after running for 139 yards, 77 of them on one run to the Japan two that set up the first Irish touchdown and gave Notre Dame a lead it never gave up.
Meanwhile, Ambrose Wooden earned some sort of iron man award, playing the second half at quarterback and most of the final two periods on defense as well. He ran for 22 yards, completed the only pass of the night for Notre Dame and made a solo tackle.
Linebacker-turned-fullback Brandon Hoyte added another 46 yards on the ground, while Tony Rice ran for 34, all in the opening half. Japan had more first downs (17-13), but Notre Dame held the home team to 236 total yards, 57 net rushing yards and 179 through the air on 20-of 45 passing with two interceptions (Ron Israel, Mike Goolsby). The Irish knocked down another four passes at the line of scrimmage.
Ivory Covington led the defense with six tackles, while Goolsby had three and five other players had a pair. Anthony Brannan, Greg Pauly, Melvin Dansby had tackles for losses, and Matt Hasbrook recorded a safety by tackling the Japanese quarterback in the end zone after a Geoff Price punt had been downed at the Japan one.
Receiver Takeshi Akiyama was the Japan MVP (four catches for 50).
Japan took the opening kickoff deep into Irish territory, but on fourth and one on the Notre Dame 19 at 9:34, Brian Magee made the stop to give the Irish the football.
The Irish couldn’t move the ball behind quarterback starter Ambrose Wooden, and Japan started over from its 48 with 7:10 on the clock. After the home team missed a potential completion on third down, Japan’s Daisuke Aoki converted on a 30-yard field goal for a 3-0 Japan lead at the 3:56 mark.
The band behind the Irish bench wore green Notre Dame Legends shirts and played the Victory March and other familiar Notre Dame music. The scoreboard featured the Japanese version of the “kiss cam.”
An interception by Israel on the first play of the second period set up the Irish on the Japan 41. Rice gained 16 yards on first down – and after Hoyte was stopped at the Japan 20 on third down, Scott Cengia knocked through a 37-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3 with 12:32 left in the second.
Notre Dame’s defense came up with two consecutive stops that forced punts — and the Irish took over at their own 21 with 6:53 remaining in the second period. On first down Vickers headed hard around the right side and 77 yards later was pushed out of bounds. On second down, Rice ran it in to make it 10-3 at the 5:49 mark. And that’s how the half ended.
The Irish gained only 24 yards on their opening second-half possession to the Japan 44. But Geoff Price’s punt was downed at the one and on second down Matt Hasbrook nailed the Japan quarterback in the end zone for a safety.
Notre Dame’s Cengia missed a 44-yard field goal and Japan’s Aoki did the same from 44. Then on Japan’s first down, Goolsby grabbed off Shun Suguwara’s pass at the Japan 40 and returned it to the eight. An offside penalty advanced the Irish cause, and Vickers took it in from the two on second and goal on a pitch from Wooden to complete the scoring.
Notre Dame simply ran out the clock in the final period. One possession featured 13 straight rushing plays — as the Irish went from their own 12 to the Japan 19 before surrendering the football after a fourth-down miss – but not before holding the ball for 8:19.
There were plenty of injuries on both sides to go around — and for a while it seemed as if the game couldn’t go more than two plays in a row without either an injury or penalty (Notre Dame was penalized nine times, Japan seven).
Notre Dame finished with a possession time edge of 36:18 to 23:42, including holding the ball for more than 21 minutes of the second half (11:46 in the third period alone).
Once the game ended, both coaches were interviewed live and shown on the video board at the Tokyo Dome.
Said Holtz, “Our team played great defense, great pass defense. Our quarterbacks could not throw. So we feel grateful to win. We got some continuity in the second half. I can’t say enough good things about Jay Vickers and all our backs. We were bigger, they were quicker. But our offensive line did a great job. (Ambrose)Wooden hadn’t played quarterback since high school and took about half the snaps on Thursday.
“It was great to be back out here. We won this game like we won a lot of games when I was at Notre Dame – we just beat the heck out of them.”
Holtz talked to the entire Japan squad after the game, with dozens of cameras recording the action. There were formal presentations of trophies to the winning teams and the MVPs.
Gary Godsey was not in uniform after an early-week leg injury sidelined him. Tony Rice, despite leg and calf issues, looked good in warm-ups after not being able to practice on Thursday. Fullback Ray Zellars struggled during warm-ups, also with leg problems. Then, on the first play from scrimmage, defensive end Chris Frome came off with a left leg injury and never returned (by halftime he wore a brace). Jason Beckstrom tore an Achilles tendon on the first series and will require surgery and Marcus Thorne suffered an apparent concussion.
Pregame ceremonies featured Notre Dame Monogram Club outgoing president Marc Kelly, Alumni Association executive director Chuck Lennon and College of Science dean Greg Crawford making presentations of books and #75 Notre Dame jerseys (representing the 75th anniversary of American football in Japan) to academic counterparts from Wasaeida, Meigi and Rikkyo Universities.
Three game officials were Americans who work college and pro games in Japan. They were introduced one at a time as they ran onto the field to light applause.
The weather outside was hot, sunny and steamy. The neighboring amusement park did a big business, and the Notre Dame tailgating party just outside the dome was more than a little warm.
About 35 Japanese team cheerleaders in white go-go boots led the home fans, with GO JAPAN on the scoreboard.
Notre Dame photographer Mike Bennett took a 360-degree photo from midfield just prior to kickoff.
One scoreboard shot showed five Japanese businessmen holding a sign that said “Ambrose #22.” Five signs in Japanese hung over the right-field wall behind the Japan bench.
Scoring Summary 1 2 3 4 FNotre Dame 0 10 9 0 19Japan 3 0 0 0 3
JP-1st (3:56) Aoki 30 FG
ND-2nd (12:32) Cengia 37 FG
ND-2nd (5:40) Rice 1 run (Cengia kick)
ND-3rd (11:05) Safety, Hasbrook tackles Sugawara in end zone
ND-3rd (1:06) Vickers 2 run (Cengia kick)
Notre Dame Individual Statistics
Rushing: Vickers 16-139-1 TD, Hoyte 10-46, Rice 7-34, Wooden 8-22, Taylor 2-16, Laux 3-11, Brown 1-4, O’Neill 1-(-1)
Passing: Wooden 4-1-0-7, Rice 2-0-0-0
Receiving: Vickers 1-7
Punting: Price 5-193-38.6
Kickoff Returns: Sanders 3-58
Notre Dame Defensive Statistics
Tackles: Covington 6, Goolsby 3, Thomas 2, Sanders 2, Brannan 2, Curry 2, Hasbrook 2, Israel 1, Guilbeaux 1, Belisle 1, Dansby 1, Brockington 1, O’Connell 1, Kenney 1, Wooden 1, Stephenson 1, Pauly 1