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No. 4 Irish Fall To Boston College, 14-7

Nov 2, 2002

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AP Football Writer

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Linebacker Josh Ott returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown, and Boston College produced one of the biggest upsets of the season by defeating the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish 14-7 Saturday.

Notre Dame (8-1) entered the game confident it had returned to its glory years after a big win at Florida State last week. But the Irish gave the ball away all day, and the Eagles (5-3) gladly took advantage, scoring both touchdowns courtesy of first-half turnovers.

The bitter loss conjured memories of the 1993 season, when unbeaten Notre Dame defeated Florida State and became No. 1, then lost the next week to Boston College in the final game of the regular season.

The Fighting Irish were off to their best season since ’93 before running into the Eagles, who ended a 23-game regular-season losing streak against Top 25 teams. It was BC’s first win over a top 10 team since beating a No. 8 Notre Dame in 1994.

While Notre Dame was all but eliminated from national title contention, the Fighting Irish can likely earn a berth in a BCS bowl game if they close out the season with wins over Navy and Rutgers and USC.

Derrick Knight, who finished with 129 yards, ran 3 yards for a first-quarter touchdown five plays after Ott recovered a fumble by tailback Ryan Grant.

The clincher came when Irish backup Pat Dillingham threw a shovel pass right to Ott, who caught the ball in stride and ran untouched for the score with 4:03 left in the first half.

Notre Dame, with an offense ranked 109th of 117 I-A teams, finally scored with 2:25 left when Carlyle Holiday threw a 20-yard TD pass to Maurice Stovall.

The Irish did not try an onside kick but got the ball back at their 24 with 12 seconds remaining. After a holding penalty knocked eight seconds off the clock, Holiday’s final desperation pass was batted down at the BC 37 as the Eagles rushed the field and celebrated.

The loss was the first under new coach Tyrone Willingham, who fell a win short of matching former coaches Ara Parseghian and Jesse Harper for the most consecutive wins to start a coaching career at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame came out in green jerseys, the first time the Irish wore the color at home since Oct. 26, 1985. That’s when Notre Dame changed from blue to green jerseys at halftime of a 37-3 win over USC. The Irish lost the last time they wore green – 35-28 to Georgia Tech in the 1999 Gator Bowl.

Trailing 14-0 at the half, Notre Dame fumbled away two scoring chances early in the third quarter. One drive ended at the BC 11 when Marcus Wilson fumbled and Eagles defensive tackle Tim Bulman recovered. But Boston College gave the ball back when Gerome Sapp intercepted a pass by Brian St. Pierre. Two plays later, Grant fumbled again, and Bulman recovered again at the BC 22.

Dillingham replaced an ineffective Holiday in the second quarter. But the sophomore, who led the Irish to two wins earlier this season when he replaced an injured Holiday, was not up to the task. He threw two interceptions, and Holiday came in for the second half.

A Notre Dame Stadium record crowd of 80,935 showed up on a sunny but chilly day. Most expected the Irish to put away the Eagles, then go into USC unbeaten on Nov. 30, with a chance to make it to the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.

But the Irish, who were among the nation’s leaders in turnover margin, had five turnovers; they lost three of seven fumbles to go with the two interceptions.

Boston College took a 6-0 lead with 2:39 left in the first period. Holiday was unable to stick the ball in Grant’s belly, and Ott pounced on the loose ball at the Irish 38. Knight set up his TD run with a 22-yard dash. The extra-point kick was wide left.

When the Irish took possession 3:51 into the third quarter, Holiday was out and Dillingham in. On his second series, he made the biggest mistake of the game.

With Notre Dame facing third-and-6 at the BC 14, Dillingham dropped back to pass, but the Eagles put on a ferocious rush. The quarterback sidestepped one defender, then inexplicably tried to throw the ball away with a shovel pass. But Ott caught it and ran for the TD with 4:03 left in the half. Brian St. Pierre threw to Sean Ryan for the 2-point conversion, and the Eagles led 14-0.