Notre Dame 21, West Virginia 14
November 22, 1997 – Notre Dame Stadium
by Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Four months ago, Bob Davie promised to breathe new life into the Notre Dame football program.
After a few cases of respiratory arrest early in the season, five wins in their last six games have taken the Irish off the ventilator and have put the program on its way for a full recovery.
A thrilling 21-14 victory over West Virginia in the final home game of the season sent a very vocal crowd of more than 80,000 into a wild frenzy not seen in Notre Dame Stadium since the win over Florida State in 1993.
“I don’t know, the way the fans are reacting, you would think that we were Notre Dame,” West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said about the celebration.
Improving to 6-5 after a 1-4 start and poised for a bowl invitation of some sort with a win at Hawaii next week, this Notre Dame team has refused to succumb to frustration.
“Character has been so much a part of this team and it was today,” Davie said. “We were behind twice, we struggled in the third quarter and we still found a way to win.”
Saturday, against the 7-3 Mountaineers who came into the game ranked 22nd in the country, several Irish players stepped up to make the difference.
Quarterback Ron Powlus, fresh off a very efficient performance against LSU last week, was consistent Saturday and very productive in his final drive at Notre Dame Stadium. The fifth-year senior’s last pass on the Notre Dame campus was an 11-yard touchdown hookup with Bobby Brown that proved to be the game-winning score.
Senior cornerback Ivory Covington, too small to be a star but too effective to replace throughout his career, came up with a critical interception deep in Irish territory to start the game-winning drive.
Notre Dame junior tailback Autry Denson, who surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season, gained 144 yards rushing and had a critical 36-yard burst to get the drive headed in the right direction. Senior receiver Malcolm Johnson had what some might consider a career game. He caught a 26-yard pass in the deciding drive, caught a seven-yard scoring pass from Jarious Jackson and finished with six receptions for 125 yards.
Another senior, cornerback Ty Goode, came up with an interception in the end zone on West Virginia’s final offensive play. Goode, normally an occasional player, was pressed into full-time duty when Allen Rossum was lost to a concussion on the third play of the game.
“We talked all this week about not expecting the same type of momentum we had at LSU,” Davie said. “The comeback we had today kind of parallels the type of season we’ve had. We’ve gotten some big plays out of people since the Pittsburgh game. Today was another case of that.”
“This is what Notre Dame football should be,” Irish offensive guard Mike Rosenthal said. “We’ve worked hard all year to get back to this. This kind of emotion was great.”
The emotion was quite guarded most of the game, thanks to West Virginia tailback Amos Zereoue. The Mountaineers’ most potent and often-used weapon rushed 32 times for 234 yards and both West Virginia touchdowns. His long run was 60 yards that set up a TD.
“He’s a great back,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said of Zereoue. “He broke a big one in the first half and that hurt. They had us off balance so much. They did so many different things that they hadn’t done all season. Zereoue can make you miss. He’s difficult to defend.”
While rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Zereoue caused the Irish fits. He helped the Mountaineers convert on their first five third-down tries with long runs.
An 11-yard run by Zereoue proved to be the only score of the first quarter, capping a 63-yard drive in which he ran for 39 yards and caught a pass for 12.
Notre Dame answered early in the second quarter when Powlus, who completed 9-of-17 passes for 158 yards, hit freshman tight end Jabari Holloway for 48 yards to set up Clement Stokes to score from a yard out.
Zereoue answered that drive with a two-play series that covered 66 yards for a 14-7 Mountaineer lead. Jarious Jackson engineered a drive that covered 67 yards, highlighted by a 45-yard hookup between Jackson and Johnson, and ended with a seven-yard pass to Johnson. The score was tied at 14 at intermission.
“We knew at the half we hadn’t played our best football and we were still tied,” Denson said. “That gave us confidence.”
A scoreless third quarter was followed by a fourth quarter that belonged to the Irish. On West Virginia’s second possession of the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers got as far as the Irish 29 when, after four straight runs, quarterback Marc Bulger lofted a pass toward the end zone that Covington intercepted.
He returned the pick to the Notre Dame 21. On the first play, Denson went 36 yards. A play later, Powlus hit Johnson for 26 yards and after two runs he threw his final pass to Brown for the winner.
Reminiscent of the Navy ending, West Virginia made one last attempt that nearly worked. With no timeouts left and 1:14 remaining in the game, the Mountaineers moved from their own 20 to the Irish 26. With about 15 seconds to play, Bulger threw to the end zone and Goode made the interception on a play the Mountaineers thought was pass interference.
West Vriginia 7 7 0 0 – 14Notre Dame 0 14 0 7 – 21
WV: Amos ZEREOUE 11 run (Jay TAYLOR PAT), 8:21 left. Drive: 63 yards, 14 plays, 6:39 elapsed after Notre Dame kickoff. Key play: Zereoue for 11 on 3rd and 9 from the ND 45. Score: West Virginia 7, Notre Dame 0.
ND: Clement STOKES 1 run (Scott CENGIA PAT), 14:08 left. Drive: 83 yards, 10 plays, 3:58 elapsed after WVU punt. Key play: Ron Powlus to Jabari Holloway for 48 on 3rd and 3 from the ND 37. Score: Notre Dame 7, West Virginia 7.
WV: ZEREOUE 6 run (TAYLOR PAT), 13:28 left. Drive: 66 yards, 2 plays, 0:40 elapsed after Notre Dame kickoff. Key play: Zereoue for 60 on 1st and 10 from the WVU 34. Score: West Virginia 14, Notre Dame 7.
ND: Malcolm JOHNSON 7 pass from Jarious JACKSON (CENGIA PAT), 4:22 left. Drive: 67 yards, 6 plays, 3:54 elapsed after WVU punt. Key play: Jackson to M. Johnson for 45 on 1st and 5 from the WVU 49. Score: Notre Dame 14, West Virginia 14.
ND: Bobby BROWN 5 pass from POWLUS (CENGIA PAT), 4:56 left. Drive: 78 yards, 6 plays, 2:36 Notre Dame interception. Key play: Ivory Covington 17 return of interception to the ND 22. Score: Notre Dame 21, West Virginia 14.
Attendance – 80,225 (sellout)
WVU NDFirst Downs 19 16Rushing 11 6Passing 7 9Penalty 1 1Rushing Attempts 41 42Yards Rushing 262 175Yards Lost Rushing 14 27Net Yards Rushing 248 148Net Yards Passing 140 217Passes Attempted 28 20Passes Completed 12 12Had Intercepted 2 0Total Offensive Plays 69 62Total Net Yards 388 365Average Gain Per Play 5.6 5.9Fumbles: Number-Lost 1-0 1-1Penalties: Number-Yards 9-89 6-52Number of Punts-Yards 6-218 7-265Average Per Punt 36.3 37.9Punt Returns: Number-Yards 3-39 2-27Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards 4-88 3-46Interceptions: Number-Yards 0-0 2-17Third Down Conversions 8-16 7-14Fourth Down Conversions 0-2 0-0Possession Time 30:15 29:45Sacks By: Number-Yards 2-16 1-5
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGAmos Zereoue 32 241 7 234 2 60Marc Bulger 6 20 6 14 0 11Leroy White 2 1 0 1 0 1Curtis Keaton 1 0 1 -1 0 -1
PASSING ATT COM INT YDS TD LGMarc Bulger 28 12 2 140 0 37
RECEIVING NO YDS TD LGShawn Foreman 6 50 0 14Pat Greene 3 42 0 24Jerry Porter 1 37 0 37Amos Zereoue 1 12 0 12Marc Bulger 1 -1 0 -1
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGJay Taylor 2 76 38.0 48Bryan Baumann 4 142 35.5 44
RETURNS PR KO INTSNate Terry 3-39 4-88 –
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGAutry Denson 26 146 2 144 0 36Ken Barry 3 20 0 20 0 16Clement Stokes 5 3 0 3 1 2Jamie Spencer 3 5 2 3 0 5Tony Driver 1 0 5 -5 0 -5Ron Powlus 4 1 18 -17 0 1 PASSING ATT COM INT YDS TD LGRon Powlus 17 9 0 156 1 48Jarious Jackson 3 3 0 61 1 45
RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGMalcolm Johnson 6 125 1 45Jabari Holloway 3 63 0 48Bobby Brown 3 29 1 11
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGHunter Smith 7 265 37.9 49
RETURNS PR KO INTSIvory Covington – – 1-17Autry Denson 2-27 – -Ty Goode – – 1-0A’Jani Sanders – 1-20 -Deveron Harper – 2-26 –