Jan. 1, 1994
DALLAS – Defenses dominated late in the Cotton Bowl as the Irish shut down Texas A&M’s comeback in the fourth quarter for an edgy 24-21 win in Dallas. Tailback Lee Becton led all runners with 138 of Notre Dame’s 206 yards rushing, marking his seventh consecutive 100-plus yardage game.
Texas A&M countered the Irish ground attack with an aerial display headed by quarterback Corey Pullig. Pullig hit the airways 31 times, completing 17 for 238 yards to balance out what Notre Dame had done on the ground. Both teams scored touchdowns on their first possessions of the game. Notre Dame drove 91 yards and capped off the drive with quarterback Kevin McDougal’s electrifying 19-yard keeper around the right end. The Aggies reloaded and struck back with a drive that resulted in Greg Hill’s eightyard touchdown sweep around the right side.
For the next few series both teams would battle back and fourth, getting few results. The defenses denied each other time and time again. For the Aggies, it was time for the air raid as they mounted a 77-yard, 14-play drive that chewed up 7:02 off the clock. During the drive, the Aggies passed five times, completing four. Faced with a fourth and one, R.C. Slocum and his troops elected to go for the first down at the Irish 15. Pullig, using a beautiful play-action fake, found a wide open Detron Smith for an Aggie touchdown.
Pullig would end the half with 123 yards passing, completing 50 percent of his passes and leading A&M to a 14-7 halftime lead. Notre Dame’s explosive attack was limited to only 123 yards of total offense. To blame for that was an Aggie defense that swarmed anywhere it saw blue and gold.
Notre Dame, after holding Texas A&M to a three-yard series on the opening drive, started the second half in the same fashion in which it began the game — by scoring a touchdown. The engines ignited for the rest of the game as Becton hit on all cylinders. The tailback carried four times for 32 yards before Notre Dame tied the game at 14-14 with Ray Zellars going off tackle for a two-yard score.
Slocum’s troops battled right back to remain in the driver’s seat. Using only 3:31, the Aggies assembled a 10-play, 80-yard drive with Pullig hitting on three quick attempts, and Rodney Thomas plowing his way in from the one to put the Aggies back on top at 21-14.
Becton would carry three more times for 31 yards, and McDougal would hit a streaking Zellars for another 18 to put the Irish deep into enemy territory. With first and goal from the one, Holtz turned to freshman bulldozer Marc Edwards who plowed his way in to tie the game at 21.With the Irish stopping A&M after six plays, Slocum’s team punted the ball away.
Deadlocked in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame found the momentum. After settling for a punt on the first drive of the quarter, Pete Bercich picked off Pullig and took the ball back. Seven plays later, the Irish had to punt again. With under six minutes left, it seemed A&M would have the last chance at victory. Slocum’s Aggies started at their own 10-yard line and went backwards. On fourth and 12 the Aggies punted the ball into the hands of Irish return man Mike Miller.
Miller left nothing behind him except Aggies and a blazing trail of smoke. He returned the punt 38 yards before finally being pushed out of bounds to give the Irish the ball on the A&M 22-yard line. Becton picked up eight on the first play, but the Aggie defense stiffened and held the Irish. Placekicker Kevin Pendergast and the Notre Dame field goal unit trotted out to the field, only to head back to the sidelines. The Irish took a timeout with 2:22 left in the game after trying to draw the Aggies offsides. Pendergast and company returned to the field and connected on the 31-yard field goal to give the Irish a 24-21 lead. A&M received the kickoff, and Pullig entered the game to try and muster one last heroic effort. But, on first and 10, Notre Dame’s Bobby Taylor picked up a loose fumble and seemed to have thwarted any last Aggie chance of survival. Slocum’s boys on defense held Notre Dame to three and out and got the ball back with a minute left to play. Needing a big play, Pullig went to the air one more time and found tight end Greg Schorp for a gain of 32. After unsuccessful second and third down plays, the Aggies had one last chance to win. Pullig dropped back to pass and found Tony Harrison who then tried to lateral the ball back to teammate Leeland McElroy. The ball never made it there, and Irish linebacker Renaldo Wynn smothered the ball.
Notre Dame Offensive Most Valuable Player
Lee Becton, Tailback