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Willingham defends fake punt

Andrew Soukup | Tuesday, December 2, 2003

PALO ALTO, Calif. – As much as Tyrone Willingham said he didn’t want to do it, he called for a fake punt late in the fourth quarter with the Irish up by 50.With Notre Dame leading 57-7 and facing a fourth-and-17 from midfield, Stanford dropped 10 players into the box to try to block the punt, leaving gunner Chinedum Ndukwe unguarded by the Stanford sideline. Earlier in the game, the Cardinal had shown a similar formation and blocked a D.J. Fitzpatrick punt.But this time, Fitzpatrick threw a 14-yard pass to Ndukwe that left the Irish short of the first down but drew angry reactions from Stanford players and prompted Stanford fans to chant, “Ty, you suck.””That was a call on my part,” an unapologetic Willingham said after the game. “They were leaving the guy uncovered, that was the right thing to do in that situation. “You don’t like to do it, but if they’re going to make the block, then you have to got to make them pay and get the first down.”However, Stanford coach Buddy Teevens shrugged off any anger at the fake.”At that point,” he said, “it really didn’t make a difference.”Shelton’s big grabMatt Shelton had only caught two passes in his collegiate career, but his third one just happened to be a 65-yard touchdown that broke the game wide open for Notre Dame.Late in the first quarter, Shelton – one of the fastest men on Notre Dame’s roster – ran a post route, outraced his defender, caught a Brady Quinn pass and scampered virtually untouched into the end zone to give Notre Dame a 14-0 lead.”I was surprised as anybody when they threw it to me and I was sitting there as the ball was coming thinking, ‘Oh God, what do I do?'” Shelton grinned after the game. “Then it was there, and it was a surreal feeling.”Shelton also partially deflected a punt and narrowly missed another touchdown catch in the second quarter.Banged up IrishNotre Dame cornerback Vontez Duff hurt himself while leaping to knock down a long pass in the first half of Notre Dame’s 57-7 victory over Stanford. He didn’t return to the game and came out of the locker room at halftime in street clothes.But Willingham said the cornerback should be ready to play in his final collegiate game next week at Syracuse.Meanwhile, running back Julius Jones hobbled off the field several times and didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter. Part of that was because the Irish had the game easily in hand, but part of that was because Jones was slightly wounded.But he said he would be ready to go against the Orangemen.Game day captainsNotre Dame’s game day captains were defensive lineman Darrell Campbell, Duff, wide receiver Omar Jenkins and offensive lineman Jim Molinaro.