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Close score fails to faze Irish faithful

Joe Piarulli | Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The car ride to Atlanta takes almost 12 hours and spans nearly 700 miles. Gas costs go into triple digits, game tickets are hard to come by and the Georgia Tech fans have a less than stellar reputation. On top of that, the Irish put up only 14 points in an unexceptional win. Was it really worth the trip?

“Definitely,” senior Kathryn Schuessler said.

Schuessler and 10 of her friends, including senior Laurie Wasikowski, took three cars to Atlanta to watch Notre Dame’s first victory of the season over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The group got tickets through a friend’s father, and according to Schuessler, plenty of Irish faithful found a way to get tickets.

“There was a really good presence of Notre Dame fans, old and young,” she said.

Wasikowski, who attended Notre Dame’s opening game against Pitt last year, said this year’s game was very different.

“We really missed the band [this year], because we weren’t anywhere near the leprechaun or the cheerleaders,” she said. “Last year we didn’t know what to expect -Notre Dame wasn’t ranked very high – and we just went in there and destroyed them.”

In a contest in which the Irish did not score until the last seconds of the first half, “destroyed” is probably not how Georgia Tech – or anyone – feels.

“There were definitely nervous moments, but I was confident with all the preparation and all the experience our team has that we would come out with the win,” Schuessler said.

Junior Chris Wilson, who drove to the game in a minivan with five of his friends, said Georgia Tech’s environment must have been tough on Brady Quinn and the Irish.

“There was a pretty good atmosphere for the home team – it was really loud anytime we were on offense,” he said.

Schuessler said fans on both sides were very involved in the game right from the beginning – perhaps too involved, as some Georgia Tech students were throwing various objects onto the field – and stuck it out until the end.

“There was a lot of back and forth excitement for both sides,” she said,”so people weren’t leaving the stadium until it was pretty clear that we were going to win.”

One of Notre Dame’s biggest obstacles in Saturday’s game was not the Yellow Jackets, but the yellow flags peppering the playing field, Schuessler said.

“There were so many penalties that I feel like we couldn’t get into a good rhythm, so I think that kind of messed up the flow of the game,” she said.

Wasikowski said she “was expecting our offense to pretty much dominate.”

“I think a lot of it was just first game jitters because there was so much hype.”

Despite Irish struggles, students said many promising pieces began to fall into place in a potential National Championship puzzle, including a stellar special teams showing and a second-half shutdown of stud receiver Calvin Johnson and the Georgia Tech offense.

“[Punter] Geoff Price did a good job,” Schuessler said. “I thought the defense looked really fast and there were some good tackles by [Ndukwe] and [Zbikowski] that got people excited.”

“I was really impressed with [freshman cornerback Darrin Walls] guarding Calvin Johnson,” Wasikowski said.

At the end of the day, the Irish are 1-0 and escaped healthy and hopeful.

“I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be corrected,” Wilson said. “I’d rather play crappy and be 1-0 than play crappy and be 0-1.”

A wakeup call is what Notre Dame may have needed, Wasikowski said, considering the difficulty of its upcoming schedule.

“It was a good reality check,” she said. “[T]his season is not just going to be a walk to the National Championship. They’ll have to work hard for it.

“I’m just glad that we won and I’m looking forward to next week – hopefully everyone will get pumped up for Penn State.”