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Bent and broken

Matt Mooney | Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Boston College didn’t need a field goal to beat Notre Dame this year. They used a touchdown instead.

Eagles receiver Tony Gonzalez made a diving catch in the end zone with 54 seconds remaining, and Ryan Ohliger’s ensuing point-after-touchdown kick gave Boston College (5-2) all the difference it would need in a narrow, come-from-behind 24-23 victory over the No. 24 Irish (5-3) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

One week after extending the nation’s longest head-to-head winning streak over Navy, the Irish continued another, more recent trend having now lost four straight games to Boston College and five of the last six.

For Irish coach Tyrone Willingham, now 0-3 at Notre Dame against Boston College, the loss is particularly disappointing.

“This was an important game for our program, our young men,” he said. “We felt that if we played our football game, we could win this one. To have it slip out of our hands in this manner hurts.”

Notre Dame appeared to have a solid grasp on the game after an effective first half. The Irish responded to the Eagles’ first-quarter touchdown with three unanswered scores of their own. Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, who finished the game completing 20-of-33 passes for 231 yards and two interceptions, connected on a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Matt Shelton and then rushed for another following linebacker Mike Goolsby’s interception.

Running back Darius Walker’s 9-yard dash gave Notre Dame a 20-7 lead, but D.J. Fitzpatrick missed the point-after attempt.

After halftime the Eagles came out flying on the arm of quarterback Paul Peterson. The Boston College signal-caller threw for 297 of his 383 yards in the second half to bring the Eagles within three points at 20-17 after a 21-yard touchdown pass to Joel Hazard and a field goal by Ohliger.

Peterson finished the game completing 27-of-41 passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions.

With the three-point lead, Notre Dame still looked like it would be able to stave off the Eagles comeback attempt. After a 43-yard Fitzpatrick field goal gave the Irish a 23-17 lead with 2:51 remaining, the Boston College offense stalled on the subsequent drive. An Eagles false start penalty followed by a tackle by Preston Jackson and a sack by Derek Landri cornered Boston College into a do-or-die fourth-and-13.

But the Eagles responded by converting their second fourth down in as many tries when Peterson connected on a 17-yard completion down the sideline to a wide-open Larry Lester. Two plays later the Eagles were in the end zone and took the lead.

“You can second-guess yourself all you want,” Irish defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “I know everyone is going to look at that fourth-down play and say that was the ballgame, but there were a lot of plays in there that could have been the ballgame.”

Notre Dame still had one more chance to try and pull out a last second victory. However, on the ensuing kickoff, Chase Anastasio ran through Justin Hoskins’ stop sign to take a touchback and was tackled at the Irish 12-yard line.

With 54 seconds left, Quinn began the drive by completing two short passes to Ryan Grant. Both passes were in the middle of the field and forced the Irish to use both of their remaining timeouts. After another completion to Grant, Quinn connected with Rhema McKnight on a 25-yard pass to put the ball on the Boston College 38-yard line. McKnight was tackled in-bounds, and the clock stopped with 1 second remaining after McKnight gained the first down, but it was going to run once the ball was spotted.

The Irish field goal unit scrambled onto the field in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to win the game. But Fitzpatrick’s 55-yard kick fell short of the goalposts as time expired, and the Eagles streamed onto the field in celebration.

For Willingham, it was Notre Dame’s last offensive series rather than the Boston College touchdown that proved the most frustrating.

“Even though our defense had a very difficult time, it should have been in the hands of our offense to get another score and do the things we need to do to put it in the endzone,” he said. “We just didn’t do that.”

Notre Dame players and coaches alike pointed to execution as the glaring difference in the game.

“We just didn’t put [the game] away,” offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “We really didn’t do a good job of going out and executing across the board.”

Grant, who rushed for 48 yards on 17 carries, summed up the game in very simplistic terms.

“We just didn’t get it done,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way, however that is, as an offense, as a college football team, we’ve got to find a way to win.”

Now entering the bye week with a loss, Willingham refuses to dwell on the negative.

“You can’t stay in the past,” he said. “I expect myself and our football team to accept the hurt that we have, deal with it, and step up like men and go forward.”