Join us on Thursday night as we relive the 2002 rivalry game between Notre Dame and Michigan. Head over to the Fighting Irish Youtube channel to watch the game, chat with fans, answer trivia and participate in fan polls. You can also comment on Twitter by using the hashtag #NDWatchParty.
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – With 21 seconds to go, cornerback Shane Walton slid to the grass on the Michigan 38-yard line after his interception, the football tucked safely away in his arms.
At that moment, Notre Dame’s sellout crowd of 80,795 stood and cheered. The final mistake in this comedy of errors of a game had been made by No. 7 Michigan, and No. 20 Notre Dame won 25-23 Saturday to remain unbeaten in three games under new coach Tyrone Willingham.
“As soon as you saw it hit his hands, you’re thinking `Get down, get down, get down,”‘ Willingham said. “Because the game was over.”
Walton, who swatted away a 2-point conversion pass that would have tied the score with 2:53 left, said he received a message from Willingham before Michigan’s last-chance drive.
“He pointed to me and said somebody needed to make a play,” Walton said. “That’s what I was trying to do.”
In the 30th game of the series, there were enough blunders, blocks and botched scoring chances to last a season. But in the end, the Irish are off to their best start since 1996, beat their first Top 10 team in four years and also scored their first offensive touchdowns of the season.
“A win like this is huge,” Walton said.
The defeat also was huge for Michigan (2-1).
“Just too many mistakes for a game like that,” coach Lloyd Carr said. “If you make that many mistakes, it’s hard to win. And we made more mistakes than Notre Dame.”
Each team lost three fumbles and had an interception. There were 18 penalties, two of which went against Michigan and resulted in a safety and touchdown late in the first half that put the Irish ahead 16-7.
The officials did not have a good day, either. On Carlyle Holiday’s 3-yard TD run with 23 seconds left in the half, it appeared the quarterback fumbled on the 1. A play earlier, cornerback Marlin Jackson was called for pass interference in the end zone.
“That was a bad call by the referee,” Jackson said, claiming that Notre Dame receiver Omar Jenkins tripped. “The guy who was in position to make the call didn’t make the call.”
Notre Dame scored its first offensive TDs of the season, with Grant running for the first of his two scores on the game’s opening drive. Grant carried 28 times for 132 yards.
With the Irish ahead, 25-17, John Navarre’s 8-yard TD pass to Bennie Joppru cut the deficit to two points. Navarre rolled right and threw toward Braylon Edwards. But Walton leaped high in the air and batted the ball away with his right hand.
Irish quarterback Carlyle Holiday completed 8 of 17 passes for 154 yards and an interception, which was returned 19 yards for Jackson in the first quarter. Holiday, who was sacked six times, carried 15 times for 14 yards.
“It’s a big win for us and our program,” Holiday said. “Now we’re just set to build on this.”
Willingham, who arrived from Stanford to replace the fired Bob Davie, said he has no long-term plan to bring Notre Dame back to its glory days.
“Win today, that’s the goal,” Willingham said.
Navarre completed 19 of 42 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown.
The game boiled down to the Wolverines being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Irish led 16-7 at halftime, thanks to Grant’s first TD, a safety via penalty and Holiday’s TD after the pass interference call against Jackson.
The Wolverines fought back to go ahead 17-16 after Philip Brabbs kicked a 19-yard field goal and Chris Perry ran 2 yards for a TD late in the third quarter. The TD was set up when Brabbs ended up recovering his own kickoff after Arnaz Battle fumbled it away at the Irish 32.
Trailing for the first time this season, the Irish came right back on the arm of Holiday, who completed passes of 28 and 47 yards to Jenkins. The 47-yarder took the ball to the Michigan 2, and two plays later Grant scored to put Notre Dame ahead 22-17. Holiday was sacked on a 2-point conversion try.
Michigan, called for holding in the end zone that resulted in a safety for Notre Dame, then made its final blunder: Perry fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Glenn Earl recovered at the Michigan 43. Four plays later, Nicholas Setta kicked a 46-yard field goal with 10:41, and that proved to be the winning margin.
The safety was one of the more unusual plays of the game.
With the score at 7-all, Michigan faced third-and-9 at its 7. Navarre dropped back into his end zone to pass, but left tackle Courtney Morgan was called for holding defensive end Justin Tuck while Tuck was tipping Navarre’s pass. The ball fell to the ground, and since the penalty occurred in the end zone, Notre Dame was awarded a safety.
The next time the Wolverines got the ball they gave it right back, as wide receiver Tyrece Butler fumbled after a 4-yard catch. Vontez Duff recovered for the Irish on the 27 to set up Holiday’s TD.
Asked about the biggest play of the game, Carr said, “There was a hundred of them.”