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Football: Freshmen steal show

Ellyen Michalak | Monday, November 19, 2007

It was senior day at Notre Dame, but the freshmen stole the show Saturday as the Irish earned their first home win of the season, 28-7 over Duke.

Freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw for 194 yards and three touchdowns, while classmate halfback Robert Hughes had a touchdown and 110 yards rushing. Freshman wide receiver Duval Kamara added a touchdown catch.

“Their statistics speak for themselves. Jimmy made some great throws. Robert [Hughes] ran hard and made some great plays. And Duval [Kamara] had a heck of a catch in the end zone,” senior tight end John Carlson said. “I think it’s a glimpse of some things that are to come. I think it’s great that they’ve gotten so much game experience. They’ve been in the heat of the battle and I think that will help them next year.”

With the win, the Irish improved their record to 2-9 and avoided becoming the first Notre Dame team in 74 years to lose every home game. The Blue Devils, playing on national television for the first time since 2004, dropped to 1-10 on the season.

“[It was a] frustrating and disappointing loss. The turnovers were huge like they always are, and our performance on third down, I thought those were the two most critical factors in the football game,” Duke coach Ted Roof said. “It was certainly a great opportunity for us that didn’t work out.”

Both teams came in with offenses ranked near the bottom of Division I-A – and it showed in the first half. Both squads missed field goals in the first quarter, and it seemed like they would head into halftime scoreless.

But then Notre Dame came alive.

The Irish forced two fumbles in the last 1:17 left in the second quarter, which resulted in two 25-yard touchdown passes by Clausen – the first to junior David Grimes and the second to Kamara – and a 14-0 lead at the half.

The two touchdown passes tied for the longest touchdown throw of Clausen’s career with the Irish.

The second fumble came with less than 30 seconds remaining in the half. The Irish tried two passes to Kamara in the end zone. The first was incomplete, but he brought the second down for the score.

“That was a big momentum changer going into the locker room,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said.

The Irish scored yet another touchdown late in the third quarter. After a 13-play, 69-yard drive, Hughes scored from 13 yards out with 25 seconds remaining in the quarter.

But the Irish were not finished.

Two possessions later, Clausen completed a nine-yard pass to Carlson for the tight end’s final home touchdown.

“It’s not something I was thinking about while it was going on. That was my last offensive play and it’s pretty special,” Carlson said.

After gaining a 28-point lead, Weis decided to give all the seniors a chance to play – including safety Tom Zbikowski at quarterback.

“It gave me an opportunity to get those guys in there,” Weis said, “And I know for them, it means a lot … those kids who practice every day and hardly ever get in there.”

Zbikowski, who did not attempt a pass, rushed four times but did not gain any yardage. He handed off to fellow senior Travis Thomas, who burst up the middle for 17 yards but then lost the ball.

After the fumble, Duke began its first successful offensive possession of the game. Sophomore backup quarterback Zack Asack finished the drive by running six yards for Duke’s first and only touchdown.

Carlson said the win helped Notre Dame’s morale. The Irish had lost four straight games coming into Saturday.

“I think next week, being our last game, we would have been motivated anyways. But it’s nice to have a little momentum, and we’ll feel good Tuesday coming into practice and hopefully we can get one next week too,” he said.