FOOTBALL: This year, matchup lives up to buildup
Matt Puglisi | Tuesday, October 25, 2005
With all the hype surrounding arguably the biggest game at Notre Dame Stadium in the last decade, it would have been easy for the contest between No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 1 Southern California to fail to live up to expectations.
In the end, the extraordinary guest list, Stadium pep rally, ESPN’s extensive coverage – including both College Gameday and Cold Pizza on campus – and the donning of the historic green jerseys for the first time since 2002 may not have been enough to match the drama on the field.
“This was an extraordinary weekend,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “The Stadium was awesome, the fans were awesome, the buildup and [Notre Dame’s] rallies and everything they did, all the people they brought in to make this so special, the green jerseys and the whole thing, it’s something we’ll never forget.”
In a game pegged as an “instant classic,” it took the two-time defending national champion Trojans all 60 minutes to knock off the Irish, 34-31.
“It definitely was an exciting game,” Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski said. “We’re not worried if it was a classic or not, we just want to be a part of Notre Dame history, that’s why we came here.”
And part of history they are.
In a battle that resembled a heavyweight title bout, the two squads – fully aware of what was on the line – exchanged blows, riding waves of momentum, only to be knocked back minutes later.
After the Trojans drew first blood, the Irish immediately responded, refusing to allow Southern California to extend the early lead 7-0 advantage.
When USC jumped back in front 14-7, Notre Dame was up to the challenge, returning the favor with a score of its own, before slipping ahead of the Trojans, 21-14.
With the final whistle of the first half, the Irish still leading by seven, the magnitude of the contest was blindingly apparent to fans, players and analysts across the college football world.
With half the contest left to play, the hype that accompanied the face-off between the bitter rivals had already been justified.
As fitting in a historic contest that featured the ebb and flow of last Saturday’s showdown, the game came down to one final, all-or-nothing play. With the Irish clinging to a 31-28 lead, having already blown a chance to secure victory seconds earlier when USC quarterback Matt Leinart hit receiver Dwayne Jarrett for 61 yards on fourth-and-nine, Leinart once again had to convert to extend Southern California’s 27-game winning streak and preserve hope for a third straight national championship.
Amidst considerable controversy concerning fumbles, clock management and a helpful push from Trojans running back Reggie Bush, Leinart made it.
“It kind of looked like it might be historic the way it finished up for everybody that watches those classic channels and all,” Carroll said. “[Leinart] looked at the line of scrimmage and said ‘I don’t think I can get it.’ He turned around to Reggie and said something, and Reggie said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ It was very dramatic, exciting as can be, I hope everybody that was watching this game won’t forget it – it was a wonderful day for college football.”