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Football: Working overtime

Jared Jedick | Monday, October 5, 2009

Bringing it down to the wire is becoming a habit with this Irish team, having their last four games come down to the final drive – and this game was no exception. And the one thing the Irish (4-1) continue to do is fight until the last whistle.

“I’m just happy, really happy for these kids,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “They just keep on fighting and fighting and fighting.”

This contest had a little bit of everything, three goal-line stands, two late scores, a two-point conversion and overtime dramatics. It is enough to drive a coach and fan-base crazy.

“I think that the entire game, the ebb and flow of the game, probably the whole game came down to that double goal line stand,” Weis said.

Washington freshman running back Chris Polk appeared to put the Huskies up by two scores for a 30-22 lead with 7:07 left on the clock, but an official review put the ball on the half-yard line.

“I felt like I got into the end zone,” Polk said.

But the run set the stage for a series of plays that epitomize Notre Dame’s season and living on the edge between victory and defeat.

The Irish managed to stop the Huskies three straight times and appeared to hold Washington to a field goal try and preserve their hopes for victory. But a roughing the snapper penalty on junior nose tackle Ian Williams gave the Huskies another three downs to try and punch the ball into the end zone. The Notre Dame defense stayed stout, however, and stuffed Washington junior quarterback Jake Locker for no gain on third and goal from the one yard-line. The Huskies had to settle for a field goal from sophomore place-kicker Erik Folk, leaving the score within reach at 27-22.

The double goal-line drive was not even the first of the game. In the third quarter the Irish again held the Huskies out of the end zone on four plays, regaining the ball on the turnover on downs.

“I’ve never seen so many guys get tackled so close to the goal-line that many times,” Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Obviously it’s frustrating when you had an opportunity like we had there in the fourth quarter to put the game in a situation to be a two-score game, and we weren’t able to do it.”

Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen went 23-of-31 for 422 yards and two touchdowns. The pass yardage was a career high for Clausen, and included a 67-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Golden Tate, a 77-yard pass to Tate – a career long for Tate – and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with 1:20 left in the game to give the Irish a 28-27 lead. Clausen was picked off once after a pass careened off the hands of junior running back Armando Allen.

“[Clausen] has taken it to a whole different level about moving in the pocket and moving from the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield,” Weis said.

Clausen’s two minute drill touchdown set the Irish up for a two-point conversion attempt to put them up by a field goal. Junior running back Robert Hughes took the direct snap and forced his way into the end zone through a pile of Washington defenders, putting the score at 30-27.

“I was just driving,” Hughes said. “[The offensive line] picked me up after I scored and were yelling so I knew I was in.”

Hughes was the leading rusher for the Irish on the afternoon, gaining 70 yards on eight carries with one touchdown and the two-point conversion.

The 80 seconds left on the clock was just enough for Locker and the Huskies as they drove down the field to set up Folk for the game-tying 37 yard field goal with six seconds left to send the game into overtime, 30-30.

The Irish seized the initiative in overtime on their first drive and Clausen connected with Tate for a 22-yard pass on the first play. Hughes followed up the play with a touchdown run to put the Irish up 37-30, a score that would hold up.

Locker was unable to drive the Huskies down to the end zone in overtime and the Irish won their third game in a row by the skin of their teeth.

Locker was 22-of-40 for 281 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked three times, including on the overtime drive to put the Huskies in bad position.

“We’re just clutch,” Tate said. “We’re a clutch team. In the trenches we know what to do and we’ve been doing a good job of that, I think.”

The game could not have been won without clutch kicking from freshman place kicker Nick Tausch, who hit a career-high five field goals on five attempts, his long being from 40 yards out.

“Well, I mean, there’s some inclement weather, and every field goal and extra point he made,” Weis said. “Except for that one kickoff against the wind that looked a little bit short, I think he had a pretty good day at the office for a freshman.”

The Irish do not like having to take all their games down to the wire, but if they keep on winning them, they will take it.

“Four weeks in a row you get into the same situation, and the first one doesn’t turn out right, turn out the way you want it, and now three weeks in a row they’ve come up,” Weis said. “There was a lot of bad stuff in the game, but I’m going to have a tough time feeling bad tonight.”

The Irish take their bye next week, before returning to action Oct. 17 when the University of Southern California comes to town.