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Irish fail to put away BC

Heather VanHoegarden | Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The days of Notre Dame playing big brother to Boston College are long over.

For the fourth year in a row, the “little brother” in the rivalry decided it was his turn to come out on top, narrowing the rivalry to 9-7 in favor of Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, Mike Goolsby wouldn’t take his helmet off as he left the field. Dwight Ellick buried his head in his hands. Ryan Grant said the same thing over and over again: “We didn’t get the job done. It’s real disappointing, we just didn’t get it done.” Justin Tuck was stunned.

All will graduate never having beaten Boston College as a starter.

But Saturday, there was no reason this Irish team should have lost to Boston College again. Somehow, they managed to do just that.

A missed extra point, too many missed tackles and, perhaps worst of all, a missed opportunity.

Notre Dame jumped out to a 20-7 halftime lead, and it looked as though the Irish were going to dominate the Eagles, as they should have.

But Notre Dame didn’t put the nail in the coffin. Brady Quinn was intercepted at the Boston College 1-yard line once, and then another time at the Boston College 11. The Irish offense stalled and stalled again, and Boston College capitalized in the second half.

The Eagles made halftime adjustments and came out a different team. They gained 319 yards in the half and scored 17 points, 14 more than the guys in the blue and gold. They looked like a football team that knew it could beat the not-so almighty Notre Dame. They believed they could win, and their coaches told them how to do so.

And they did just that.

Paul Peterson threw for nearly 300 yards in the second half alone while the Irish played scared. Scared to lose to the Eagles again. Scared to make a play. Just hanging onto the 13-point lead they built in the first half, and hoping it would be enough.

But why?

Notre Dame was playing at home. They had won two games in a row. They had the momentum. They had the lead.

And yet, the Irish played not to lose. They punted at the Boston College 30-yard line instead of attempting a field goal, citing the tricky wind as the reason. On third-and-seven in the fourth quarter, the Irish ran the ball up the middle for one yard, forcing them to kick the field goal that left them with one point too few. Notre Dame didn’t score in the second half until that field goal late in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Peterson was busy completing 19-of-23 passes in the second half, picking apart the Notre Dame secondary. Tom O’Brien must have seen something at halftime, because the Eagles were a different team in the second half.

“As much as anything, they did a good job, there’s no question about that,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said of Boston College’s play in the second half. “I thought we missed a great number of opportunities to make plays, whether it was a tackle or coverage, we just did not take advantage of what we thought were opportunities to get ourselves off the field and/or keep ourselves on the field.”

But that explanation isn’t enough at Notre Dame. Where were the Irish adjustments? What did their coaches tell them?

Why didn’t the players come to play?

Boston College made the plays, and Notre Dame didn’t. And when you don’t make plays, you don’t win football games.

So now the Irish are left bent and broken. A season that could have seen the Irish go 7-4 with a potential New Year Day’s bowl appearance is suddenly looking more like 6-5. It’s not over yet, but the way this team played Saturday, it could be.

The week off will help physically, but emotionally it is yet to be seen. This team is devastated by a loss they only have themselves to blame for. They could forget about it, or this feeling could last until the next time they step on the field. There is no way to tell.

Just like there is no way to tell why the Irish came out the way they did in the second half. Why they didn’t make a play, and most of all, why they cannot play with a lead.

But the fact remains that one of the worst feelings in the world may be when your little brother has grown up enough to overpower you.

The feeling is even worse when the older brother has grown too weak to fight back.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu