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Football: Through the grit and Grime(s)

Kyle Cassily | Tuesday, November 27, 2007

PALO ALTO, Calif. – It’s over.

A season that saw the Irish lose more games than ever in their 119-year history ended with what was seen rarely in coach Charlie Weis’ third season on the Notre Dame sideline – a win. The Irish (3-9) defeated Stanford 21-14 on Saturday to end the year with two straight wins, fielding a young team that had true freshmen lead the game in passing, rushing and receiving yards.

“All along we knew we were playing with talented young guys and that there was going to be a growing process,” Weis said. “There’s some growing pains that take place when you’re doing it. They’re going to be a lot more ready to play next year by how they finished this year.”

Notre Dame freshman running back Robert Hughes juked his way into the end zone for the 6-yard, go-ahead touchdown run with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter. The Cardinal (2-9) offense then drove 46 yards to the Irish 6-yard line with under a minute left to play, but two dropped passes to Stanford receivers in the back of the end zone turned the ball, and the game, over to Notre Dame.

Hughes ran for a game-high 136 yards, including a 44-yard run around the left end into open space in the fourth quarter that set up his game-winning touchdown.

“[Hughes] played awesome. He run’s hard, he’s huge,” Irish wide receiver David Grimes said. “I wouldn’t want to tackle him.”

Freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw for 196 yards with 19 completions on 32 attempts, outgunning his Stanford counterparts Tavita Pritchard and T.C. Ostrander by 44 yards. Clausen connected with freshman wide receiver Duval Kamara six times for a team-high 93 yards.

“Those freshman and sophomores and juniors, they played really well,” Grimes said. “Some of those catches Golden Tate and Kamara made were awesome.”

There were four calls by Big East referees on the field overruled by a Pac-10 replay judge in the booth, including what would have been a 29-yard touchdown reception to put the Irish up 21-14 by Irish wide receiver David Grimes midway through the third quarter. Grimes laid out in a Superman dive with his back to the ball in the end zone, caught the ball while in mid-air and cradled it in both hands as he hit the ground.

The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but upon replay it was reversed and a 44-yard field goal attempt by Brandon Walker on the next play missed wide right to keep the game tied at 14-14.

“David [Grimes] said he had the ball underneath his hands,” Weis said. “[The players] usually tell me what they perceive to be the truth. And when he reached out he had the ball in his hands, and he said the ball didn’t bounce off the ground because he had his hand underneath the ball. He said there was no way it was an incompletion. I trust David.”

It took three failed drives, two of which ended with fumbles, and a fortunate interception before Notre Dame scored the first points of the game to go up 7-0 at 4:57 of the first quarter. Cardinal quarterback Pritchard threw a quick pass to wide receiver Richard Sherman that popped out of his hands, and Irish safety Tom Zbikowski grabbed it out of the air and fell on the Stanford 14-yard line.

Clausen then hit Kamara with a 12-yard pass to the 2-yard line and ran a two-yard quarterback keeper into the end zone on the ensuing play for the touchdown.

“It wasn’t the prettiest [game],” Weis said. “Obviously we turned the ball over in the first quarter three times.”

Cardinal running back Anthony Kimble fought through an Irish goal line stand on his second attempt from the 1-yard line to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:36 left in the first quarter.

Kimble’s short rush was set up by a 42 yard pass from Pritchard to wide receiver Mark Bradford, who caught the ball 20 yards from the line of scrimmage and then made several cuts up the middle to avoid tackles and stretched it out for another five yards with a stiff arm.

With 2:54 remaining in the second quarter, Kimble zigzagged through the Irish defense for an 11-yard touchdown, breaking four tackles to put the Cardinal up 14-7.

With a familiar stat line, Irish senior running back Travis Thomas carried the ball one time for one yard and a touchdown in his final game when he tied the game at 14-14 with 48 seconds left in the first half on a run up the gut into the Cardinal end zone.

The Thomas run was set up by a 44-yard swing pass to senior Junior Jabbie, who bust into open space after right guard Eric Olsen created a lane by steamrolling a Cardinal defender into Stanford Stadium’s new hybrid Bermuda grass.

The Grimes touchdown catch wasn’t the only touchdown Notre Dame saw reversed in the game.

On Stanford’s last drive of the first half, Pritchard threw a deep interception to Irish safety David Bruton on the Notre Dame 3-yard line, starting a three-lateral return into the end zone that was eventually brought back on a penalty.

Irish safety Tom Zbikowski got the first lateral from Bruton, took it 27 yards before he tossed it 10 yards to his left to cornerback Darrin Walls, then got it back and outran Pritchard into the end zone. The multi-lateral play, which Weis said they played around with in practice, was nullified by a personal foul to defensive end Trevor Laws.

“[It was] 14-14, and we had a chance to get ahead, and then the penalty by one of your best friends,” Zbikowski joked about Laws. “We do it in practice, we mess around, start pitching it around. It worked pretty well today.”

As the sun set on the redwoods ringing the stadium in northern California, the Irish stayed in the locker room a little bit longer to celebrate the win. They performed around five renditions of the fight song, led by Weis, Zbikowski, Laws and center John Sullivan, and were slow to board the buses that were the first leg of the final trip back to South Bend.

“For all the guys walking out the door, there’s a lot of scrutiny as the year goes on that everyone says, ‘this team’s going to throw in the towel’,” Weis said. “It says a lot for the characters of those guys that in the last two years when everyone said they’re going to throw in the towel, that’s the last thing they’re thinking.”