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Going out on top

Kyle Cassily | Monday, November 20, 2006

Brady Quinn jumped into the student section wearing his green jersey and led the crowd in a chant of “Beat SC” after leading Notre Dame to a 41-9 win over Army Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Quinn completed 22-of-30 passes for 218 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in his final home game.

“[Notre Dame] is really special,” Quinn said. “It’s just somewhere I will always be able to come back to and have very fond memories and know that it’s changed my life in a very good way.”

Quinn found fellow seniors Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight for his touchdowns. Samardzija caught the first Quinn TD toss halfway through the second quarter, and McKnight grabbed one late in the second and early in the third to help the Irish breeze by the Black Knights on Senior Day.

“I did my best today to take it all in,” Quinn said. “Today was a special moment when I looked up in the stands and everyone is still there. Eighty-thousand Notre Dame fans are up anticipating the final lap around the field. It makes me realize how special this place is.”

But it wasn’t smooth sailing early for Notre Dame. The Irish reversed a 3-0, first-quarter Army lead with three touchdowns in the second period to go up 20-3 at the half.

Irish running back Darius Walker broke a 10-yard run up the middle into the end zone to put the Irish back on top of the Black Knights, 7-3, 50 seconds into the second period. It was Walker’s fourth carry of the six-play, 50-yard drive during which he picked up 33 yards on the ground and another 15 yards in the air from a Quinn pass.

But that Irish scoring drive was almost derailed before it began. Notre Dame freshman George West fumbled the kickoff return, but Irish defensive back Kyle McCarthy was there to recover the loose ball.

“I went and told [the offense], you have to be patient fellas. We’re not going to score in big chunks here,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “We are going to nickel and dime them because that’s what they have been dictating for you to do.”

The Irish came out in a no-huddle offense on their opening drive, but Quinn threw his first interception in 227 attempts when a pass intended for Samardzija up the middle was intercepted by Army free safety Jordan Murray and returned for 22 yards. The Black Knights, however, could not mount a drive and turned the ball over on downs at the Notre Dame 30-yard line.

The Irish added two touchdowns in the third quarter on a Walker rush and McKnight’s second score to open up a 34-3 lead.

On the first possession after half, the Irish drove quickly up field, earning a first down on their first five plays, then a touchdown on the sixth. The drive was capped by a 5-yard Walker run to the right side. Walker fumbled at the 1, but sophomore receiver David Grimes recovered in the end zone for the touchdown.

Notre Dame’s next drive began after Irish cornerback Mike Richardson picked off Army quarterback Carson Williams on a pass intended for Corey Anderson at the Army 41-yard line. One play scrambling for a 14-yard gain on third-and-eight, Quinn found McKnight for a 24-yard score through the air with 9:46 remaining in the third quarter was set up the play before by a 14-yard rush by Quinn after he was forced from the pocket.

“They have a great program, and in Quinn, they have a premier football player,” Black Knights coach Bobby Ross said. “And the wide-outs, all three of them today, I think they had a heck of a day against us.”

A 27-yard field goal by Austin Miller gave Army its initial 3-0 lead in the first quarter. The Black Knights drove 47 yards in seven plays, including a 23-yard run by running back Wesley McMahand on a sweep to the right sideline that pushed the Black Knights to the Irish 15-yard line. Running back Tony Moore then rushed seven yards to the 9-yard line to set up the Miller kick.

Army added a touchdown as time expired with a 12-yard pass from second-half quarterback David Pevoto to Tim Dunn to set the final at 41-9.

Walker scored his second touchdown of the game and the last touchdown for the Irish with a 7-yard run with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“It’s always important to get in there and establish the run, so we can dictate the game,” Walker said. “We felt like we controlled it the whole time. We could take 20-play drives or whatever it need be to get into the end zone.