LSU 27, Notre Dame 9
December 28, 1997 – Independence Stadium
by Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune
SHREVEPORT, La. – Even the uniforms were different.
The LSU football team Notre Dame played in Baton Rouge last November was nowhere to be seen in the Tigers’ 27-9 Independence Bowl victory over the Irish.
LSU’s change to gold jerseys and white helmets was the only superficial alteration. The Tigers’ heart, desire and show of toughness made the “Red River Rematch” a night of Tiger revenge of November’s 24-6 defeat.
Toothless in the last meeting, the 9-3 Tigers took a bite out of everything the 7-6 Irish tried to do.
The biggest difference was LSU tailback Rondell Mealey. Subbing for Kevin Faulk, who left with an ankle injury early in the game, Mealey proved to be the dominant force in the game. He rushed for 220 yards on 34 carries. Mealey’s 78-yard run early in the fourth quarter set up his two-yard touchdown run on the next play that gave the Tigers a commanding 20-9 advantage with 12:47 to play in the game. Another 31-yard run led to the Tigers’ final score with just under 2 1/2 minutes to play.
Mealey and LSU’s offense did to the Irish what Notre Dame tried to do to the Tigers. He ran right up the middle and dared the Irish to stop him. Too many times, they didn’t.
Notre Dame missed a pair of golden scoring opportunities in the first half, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns. The Irish red-zone offense had trouble making many positive inroads in the clutch.
Trailing 6-3 at halftime, LSU came out in the third quarter like it was tired of being pushed around. The Tigers engaged an aggressive running game behind Mealey and marched down the field to even up the score 6-6 with a 42-yard field goal from Wade Richey.
After the Tigers went 46 yards on 12 plays and then hit the field goal, the Irish buried themselves on the ensuing kickoff. Allen Rossum slipped inside the Irish 10 and the offense was stopped. Hunter Smith punted to midfield, but the Tiger express kept churning.
It was obvious the LSU game plan was to pick on Notre Dame senior cornerback Ivory Covington whenever the ball went in the air. Freshman receiver Abram Booty, who was defended by Covington, caught each of the first five LSU completions, the fifth for a 12-yard touchdown with 4:05 left in the third quarter for a 13-6 LSU lead.
Notre Dame’s frustration in the third quarter carried over into the postseason. The Irish offense generated just 18 total yards and one first down on nine total plays in the entire third quarter as they headed into the fourth quarter trailing by seven points.
Irish senior kicker Scott Cengia matched his career high for field goals in a game and equaled his total for the entire ’97 season by kicking his third field goal of the game with 13:10 left to cut the LSU lead to 13-9. Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus helped his team shake its third quarter blues by scrambling 26 yards early in the fourth quarter to get inside the LSU 20 for the third time. For the third time, the Irish stumbled and settled for a 33-yard field goal.
Mistakes marred a first half that wasn’t even a distant cousin to the one Notre Dame played the last time the Irish met LSU. A fumble and two inept red-zone tries — one that went to the LSU 13 and another that got to the 2 — kept Notre Dame from making much headway while clinging to a 6-3 advantage at intermission.
A fumble by backup quarterback Jarious Jackson on his first play from scrimmage in the second quarter set up the Tigers’ only score, a 37-yard field goal by Richey at the 7:12 mark.
Richey, a senior who was hotly recruited by Notre Dame four years ago, connected on only his fourth field goal of the season and second since the second game of the season.
Jackson took his first snap and tried to keep the ball on an option. While straining for extra yardage, the ball was stripped and recovered by Mark Roman on the Irish 24. The bright spot was that Notre Dame’s defense held and forced the three-pointer.
Notre Dame’s offense concentrated on attacking the interior of the LSU defensive front. Tailback Autry Denson pounded the middle and bounced to the outside repeatedly, gaining 68 yards on 14 carries.
Denson’s long run of the half, 35 yards, went down to the LSU 13 and gave the Irish an opportunity to score on their second possession of the first half. Denson ran three times, slipping once, and lost four yards to set up Cengia for a 33-yard field goal.
Cengia connected on a 21-yard field goal 20 seconds before intermission to cap the scoring. Quarterback Ron Powlus connected on a pair of passes to Malcolm Johnson for 11 and eight yards and a 10-yarder to Joey Getherall to help navigate the ball 60 yards to the LSU 4. However, with Jackson and the “T-team” in the game, the Irish floundered. Ken Barry, Tony Driver and Clement Stokes each carried the ball once for a net-zero yards and Cengia came on the field.
Notre Dame 3 3 0 3 – 9LSU 0 3 10 14 – 27
ND: Scott CENGIA 33 FG, 7:13 left. Drive: 70 yards, 9 plays, 4:03 elapsed after LSU punt. Key play: Autry Denson 35 run on 1st and 10 from the LSU 48. Score: Notre Dame 3, LSU 0.
LSU: Wade RICHEY 37 FG, 7:12 left. Drive: 4 yards, 4 plays, 1:54 elapsed after ND fumble. Key play: Mark Roman recovers Jarious Jackson’s fumble at the ND 24. Score: Notre Dame 3, LSU 3.
ND: CENGIA 21 FG, 0:20 left. Drive: 60 yards, 14 plays, 6:52 elapsed after LSU kickoff. Key play: Denson 5 run on 3rd and 2 from the LSU 9. Score: Notre Dame 6. LSU 3.
LSU: RICHEY 42 FG, 9:17 left. Drive: 46 yards, 12 plays, 5:43 elapsed after ND kickoff. Key play: Herb Tyler to Abram Booty for 14 on 3rd and 6 from the ND 33. Score: Notre Dame 6, LSU 6.
LSU: BOOTY 12 pass from TYLER (RICHEY PAT), 4:05 left. Drive: 49 yards, 8 plays, 3:31 elapsed after ND punt. Key play: Tyler 5 run on 3rd and 3 from the ND 16. Score: LSU 13, Notre Dame 6.
ND: CENGIA 33 FG, 13:10 left. Drive: 61 yards, 8 plays, 2:34 elapsed after LSU punt. Key play: Ron Powlus 26 run on 1st and 10 from the LSU 46. Score: LSU 13, Notre Dame 9.
LSU: Rondell MEALEY 2 run (RICHEY PAT), 12:47 left. Drive: 80 yards, 2 plays, 0:23 elapsed after ND kickoff. Key play: Mealey 78 run on 1st and 10 from the LSU 20. Score: LSU 20, Notre Dame 9.
LSU: MEALEY 1 run (RICHEY PAT), 2:22 left. Drive: 35 yards, 7 plays, 3:19 elapsed after ND fails to convert on 4th down. Key play: Mealey 27 run on 3rd and 13 from the ND 28. Score: LSU 27, Notre Dame 9.
Attendance – 50,459 (sellout)
ND LSUFirst Downs 19 19Rushing 10 14Passing 6 5Penalty 3 0Rushing Attempts 41 52Yards Rushing 198 294Yards Lost Rushing 70 29Net Yards Rushing 128 265Net Yards Passing 115 61Passes Attempted 25 12Passes Completed 13 5Had Intercepted 0 0Total Offensive Plays 66 64Total Net Yards 243 326Average Gain Per Play 3.7 5.1Fumbles: Number-Lost 1-1 0-0Penalties: Number-Yards 5-30 5-55Number of Punts-Yards 5-225 4-143Average Per Punt 45.0 35.8Punt Returns: Number-Yards 2-23 3-38Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards 4-61 2-34Interceptions: Number-Yards 0-0 0-0Third Down Conversions 6-16 7-15Fourth Down Conversions 0-1 1-1Possession Time 29:56 30:04Sacks By: Number-Yards 3-18 7-62
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGAutry Denson 20 106 5 101 0 35Ken Barry 8 44 1 43 0 12Tony Driver 1 1 0 1 0 1Clement Stokes 1 0 2 -2 0 -2Jarious Jackson 4 14 16 -2 0 13Ron Powlus 7 33 46 -13 0 26
PASSING ATT COM INT YDS TD LGRon Powlus 18 8 0 66 0 14Jarious Jackson 7 5 0 49 0 20
RECEIVING NO YDS TD LGMalcolm Johnson 5 49 0 13Autry Denson 3 32 0 20Joey Getherall 3 23 0 10Bobby Brown 1 10 0 10Ken Barry 1 1 0 1
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGHunter Smith 5 225 45.0 52
RETURNS PR KO INTSAutry Denson 2-23 – -Tony Driver – 2-29 -Allen Rossum – 2-32 –
RUSHING ATT GAIN LOST NET TD LGRondell Mealey 34 233 11 222 2 78Tommy Banks 6 23 0 23 0 9Herb Tyler 9 31 18 13 0 6Kevin Faulk 3 7 0 7 0 4
PASSING ATT COM INT YDS TD LGHerb Tyler 12 5 0 61 1 14
RECEIVING RECPT YARDS TD LGAbram Booty 5 61 1 14
PUNTING NUM YARDS AVG LGChad Kessler 2 85 42.5 43Jeremy Witten 2 58 29.0 30
RETURNS PR KO INTSRondell Mealey – 2-34 -Kevin Faulk 1-23 – -Larry Foster 2-15 – –