Jan. 2, 1995
TEMPE – If holding the Heisman Trophy winner in check ranked as the only goal, Notre Dame’s defensive performance against fourth-rated Colorado in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl might have qualified as impressive.
Unfortunately for the Irish, there proved to be far more to the Buffaloes’ potency than running back Rashaan Salaam. Though he did score three touchdowns on runs of five, one and one yards, Notre Dame limited him to 83 net yards on 27 attempts, for a 3.1-yard average with no gain greater than 13 yards.
The same could not be said for quarterback Kordell Stewart. Running the Colorado option attack with precision, Stewart threw for 226 yards and a touchdown and — more impressively — scuttled the Irish defense with 143 rushing yards on only seven carries. He easily earned the game’s offensive MVP award and had more to do than anyone else with Colorado scurrying out to a 31-3 lead on its way to an eventual 41-24 victory over Notre Dame.
Stewart’s 29-yard run and 37-yard completion to Phil Savoy set up the Buffs’ first touchdown. His 35-yard romp set up the second Colorado TD. A 46-yard pass to James Kidd put the Buffs in position for their third first half TD. And a third period, 41-yard option keeper by Stewart made it 34-17 for Colorado just when the Irish were threatening to get back into the football game. Playing its final game for retiring coach Bill McCartney, Colorado scored on five of its first six possessions to do everything it could to put the contest out of reach early.
Salaam’s biggest gain of the afternoon came on the game’s third play from scrimmage. After that, Stewart took over. His 28-yard pass to Michael Westbrook pushed the Buffs to the Irish 22 and, three plays later, Neil Voskeritchian converted a 33-yard field goal for an early Colorado advantage.
After Notre Dame’s first possession ended when Ron Powlus couldn’t connect with Derrick Mayes on a fourth-and-eight throw from the Colorado 30, the Buffs continued their rumbling. Stewart’s 29-yard excursion came on first down, and three plays later he hooked up with Savoy for 37 yards to the Irish one. Stewart’s one-yard toss to tight end Christian Fauria made it 10-0.
Notre Dame rebounded with a field goal of its own, after Scott Sollmann’s kickoff return to the Buff 46 and Powlus’ run for 17 set Scott Cengia up for a three-pointer from 29 yards out. But that barely stemmed the Buffalo tide.
Stewart keynoted the next Colorado scoring drive, running 35 yards himself and throwing for 22 more to Westbrook before scoring himself from nine yards out to make it 17-3. Third downs hurt the Irish on Colorado’s next possession, as Stewart ran for 16 yards on third and 11 and threw to Savoy for 46 on third and 10. The Buffs’ next scoring drive required only 38 yards after an eight-yard Notre Dame punt, with Salaam notching the score on a short run.
Notre Dame’s initial touchdown drive came in the final 1:29 of the first half, with Powlus throwing for 36 yards to Lee Becton, 20 more to Mayes and finally seven yards to Mayes for the score — making it 31-10 at the break. Though Colorado ran off only four more plays than Notre Dame in the first two periods, its 332-161 edge in total yards at halftime proved particularly telling.
The Irish attempted to reestablish their running game as the third period began — and they did so, with Becton running for gains of 12 and 18 yards on successive plays and Ray Zellars following with an 11-yard run. But, on fourth and goal from the five, Charles Stafford’s throw to Zellars after a faked field goal went awry.
Still, Powlus hooked up with Mayes after a short Colorado punt on a TD throw that comprised a one-play, 40-yard scoring drive to cut the deficit to 31-17.
After a Voskeritchian field goal, the Irish drove from their own 21 to the Colorado 30, only to have the Buffs’ Ted Johnson intercept a pass for the only turnover by either team.
A 37-yard Stewart pass to Kidd set up Salaam’s final TD. Then the Irish drove 91 yards in 14 plays, converting four times on third down before Powlus threw seven yards to Leon Wallace for the final 41-24 margin.
Offensive Most Valuable Player
Lee Becton, Tailback