Nov. 18, 2005
This afternoon’s game between Notre Dame and Syracuse marks the fifth-ever meeting between the two schools as the Orange pay a visit to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 1961. The abbreviated series is not without its memorable moments, however, for college football fans and college football historians.
Few diehard Notre Dame followers have been able to forget the last time the Irish and Orange met on the football field. In the midst of a raging snowstorm in upstate New York, but safe and sound in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse and running back, Walter Reyes, ended Notre Dame’s 2003 campaign in unceremonious fashion.
Reyes ran over and through the Notre Dame defense, piling up 189 yards and a staggering five touchdown runs in a 38-17 rout. It was the final game of a 5-7 season for the Irish that ended a three-game winning streak for Notre Dame.
There are 20 players on this year’s Notre Dame squad that appeared in that ’03 contest. Those players will have a chance to earn a bit of redemption in this afternoon’s meeting.
But even as the memories of the `03 meeting linger in the minds of both team’s fans and players, the last time Syracuse entered Notre Dame Stadium might be one of the most memorable games for college football historians.
The outcome of Notre Dame’s 17-15 victory over the Orange in `61 seems like just a blip on the historical pages of both team’s media guides. Played 44 years ago, and almost to the day (Nov. 18), the game ended up as much more than just a date in the record books. The final two plays of the contest changed the way that college football is played to this day.
The game’s official box score and recap ends with Notre Dame’s Joe Perkowski kicking a 41-yard field goal to win the game. Unfortunately for the Orange, according to selected college football rule interpretations at the time, the final play should never have occurred.
Syracuse entered the game ranked 10th in the country with a 6-2 record. The Orange were led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis and the team was just two years removed from winning the 1959 National Championship.
The Irish limped into the game with a 4-3 record, having just snapped a three-game losing streak the previous weekend against Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 14-0 lead before Syracuse rallied to gain a one-point edge at 15-14 with just 17 seconds remaining.
The Irish took possession at their own 20-yard line to begin the final drive. Quarterback Frank Budka ran for 21 yards, then completed a 10-yard pass to George Sefcik to set up a desperation 56-yard field goal attempt for Perkowski.
Perkowski missed the kick, but Syracuse defensive end Walt Sweeney barreled over the kicker and holder, drawing a personal foul penalty.
According to college football rules at the time, once the kick had been struck, the kicking team becomes the defensive team. Essentially, Perkowski and the Irish forfeited possession of the ball on the attempted kick, turning Syracuse into the offensive team. Personal foul (or roughing the kicker) did not apply because the Irish were not in possession of the ball and time had run out.
A second kick should not have been allowed, but the officiating crew on hand did allow Perkowski a second attempt and he nailed the 41-yard effort, becoming the first Notre Dame kicker to win a game on the final play.
There were several calls for the Irish to forfeit the game based on rule interpretations, but the NCAA ended up ruling in favor of Notre Dame, saying “A scrimmage kick … is treated as though in the possession of the kicking team if the penalty for roughing the kicker is accepted.”
If not for the rule interpretation by the NCAA in this case, what would prevent teams from intentionally roughing the kicker on each attempt? The NCAA eliminated any further problems with this rule the next season, removing the section that said a kicking team became a defensive team once the ball had been kicked.
The history of this series, some of which occurred 44 years ago and other memories created just two years past, will be on the minds of the players, coaches and fans this weekend.
Syracuse enters today’s game struggling on the offensive side of the ball. While compiling a 1-8 record this season, the Orange have scored just 125 points (13.8 per game) while averaging 256 total yards per game. For comparison, the Irish have piled up 348 points this season (38.7 per game), average 477 yards per game and are on pace to set team records for points scored and yardage accumulated.
More important than the statistical mismatch on paper this weekend is the opportunity for Notre Dame’s senior class to end their home-field careers with a victory. Since 1986, the Irish are 13-5 in the final home game of the season. Four of the five losses occurred in the final minute. Notre Dame has played well recently in its final home game, but one of those five losses occurred last season when Pittsburgh’s Josh Cummings kicked a 32-yard field goal with one second remaining to hand the Notre Dame football class of `04 a 41-38 defeat in its final game at Notre Dame Stadium.
Irish fans will experience their last chance to cheer for several seniors in person this afternoon. Here is a quick look at some of the Irish regulars making their final home appearance today (those that could apply for a fifth-year of eligibility are not included) – K/P D.J. Fitzpatrick is a local product out of Marian High School who transformed himself from walk-on kicker just hoping to see the field as a holder sometime in his career to a dependable offensive force for the Irish.
LB and defensive team captain Brandon Hoyte has been a stalwart in the middle of the Irish defense for the last four seasons and has piled up 275 career tackles. A leader both on and off the field, Hoyte’s contributions to the program and passion for Notre Dame football will be missed.
OL Mark LeVoir has been a dependable and versatile player on the Irish offensive line throughout his career. In his first season of action he was a backup tackle, then moved inside to guard his second year before spending the last two campaigns back on the outside at tackle. LeVoir has started 33 consecutive games entering today’s contest.
LB Cory Mays bided his time as a special teams player before becoming an every-down force for the Irish in his senior campaign. He is fourth on the team this year with 52 tackles, while adding six tackles-for-a-loss, two sacks and three fumble recoveries.
WR Matt Shelton set a Notre Dame record last season for yards-per-reception, averaging 25.8 yards per his 20 catches. After suffering a knee injury at the end of the `04 campaign, Shelton worked hard to get back in the receiver mix for Notre Dame this season. So far he has totaled 18 catches for 184 yards in `05.
OL Dan Stevenson has started at least one game for the Irish every year of his career and boasts 31 career starts in the interior of Notre Dame’s offensive line.
WR Maurice Stovall, enjoying a breakout performance this year with 50 catches for 796 yards and nine touchdowns, has already moved into sixth place on Notre Dame’s all-time list for career receptions and receiving yardage this season.
These selected seniors, along with the rest of their classmates, are determined to end their Notre Dame Stadium careers on a positive note. It will be their final pep rally Friday night, their final run out of the tunnel this afternoon and their final salute to the Notre Dame student body after today’s game.
Perhaps their efforts today will produce another notable moment in this short, but memorable, football series.