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Football: Spring Stars

Laura Myers | Monday, April 26, 2010

Alumni and fans at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday may have experienced some déjà vu as junior quarterback Nate Montana led the Gold team to a 27-19 victory in the annual Blue-Gold Game.

Montana, a junior walk-on who spent the fall at Pasadena City College in order to gain more experience, finished 18-for-30 for 223 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

“I’m real far from [junior college],” Montana said. “And I think I’ve gotten a lot better since I came in here, especially with the help from the coaches. Being coached and them helping me understand the offenses, is really helping me progress.”

Junior quarterback Dayne Crist, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery, led the Blue team and finished the day 20-of-31 for 172 yards and one touchdown. He also threw two interceptions.

While Crist is the obvious leader in the quarterback race, Montana may have secured a spot as the first backup.

“Nate does some things really well, and then I’ll lose him for a couple of plays. It’s more about him playing,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said.  “He hasn’t played a lot of college football, and consistency is something he has to show.”

The Blue-Gold Game capped off Notre Dame’s spring practice season, in which Kelly got his first chance to work with the team.

“Today was a good evaluator for us relative to all of our players and finding out more about them,” Kelly said. “It’s the first coat of paint for us. This is a process that we’ve entered into and we know that this is not a destination for us but we got a chance to see some things today that we can build on and I think those are pretty evident.”

Sophomore tailback Cierre Wood, playing for the Blue team, began the game’s scoring with a three-yard run in the first quarter. In the third quarter, Woods broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run. On the day, he finished with 10 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

Not to be outdone, sophomore running back Jonas Gray of the Gold team ended the third quarter with a 38-yard touchdown run of his own. Gray led his team with eight carries for 57 yards.

Kelly said the play of the running backs was a high point in the game.

“I thought that we had some very good depth at the running back position,” Kelly said. “I thought today Jonas Gray ran hard with low pads, played physical, showed very good speed. Cierre Wood [and senior] Armando Allen were electric early on.

“I would say that the running back position is one that I feel really good after this game about the depth and the ability at that position.”

Montana and senior tight end Mike Ragone put the Gold team on the board at the end of the first half with a four-yard shovel pass for a touchdown. Ragone caught six passes for 75 yards. Junior tight end Kyle Rudolph, whose play was limited due to his recovery from shoulder surgery, caught four passes for 39 yards while playing for the Blue team.

“The tight end position as you know we don’t take off the field,” Kelly said. “So we need that kind of depth. Ragone’s a tough kid.  He’s going to help us. He’s going to move the chains for us … He’s very important in terms of what we’re going to be doing in the fall.”

Montana connected with senior receiver Duval Kamara and sophomore receiver Theo Riddick for two more touchdowns in the second half.

Freshman receiver T.J. Jones was the top receiver for the Blue team, with four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.

“It was great,” Jones said of the touchdown. “Definitely one of the best feelings I’ve had so far in my life.”

While the game was set up for the offense to be successful, in what Kelly agreed was a “vanilla” defensive scheme, the Gold defense was able to make some plays. 

Junior linebacker Steve Filer led all players with 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss. Sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o finished with eight tackles.

“By and large it was their best practice,” Kelly said. “Believe me, if you’d seen some of the practices leading up to this, you’d be writing that this thing is a disaster. Today was a lot cleaner than we had been up to this point.”

Te’o said the offensive plan was besides the point for the defense.

“We were always taught by Coach Diaco, it doesn’t matter about the call, it matters what you do with the call,” Te’o said. “So it didn’t matter what the call was, we knew that we had to get to the ball and when we get to the ball everybody has to rally, and that’s what makes great defense.”

The Irish will now have some time off before resuming workouts in June.

“We are moving through a process that really has a number of stages, and this is just another stage,” Kelly said. “We have a huge number of stages in front of us.”

Notes:

Saturday was Kelly’s first time coaching in front of a crowd at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I will not understate the wow factor of coming into this incredible stadium,” he said. “Having said that, I’ve waited my entire life for this opportunity so I’m going to be pretty excited every game we play. For me, getting in this stadium and being in this environment, I can tell why it’s exciting.

“Now, we’ve got to win some games. That makes it really exciting. And that’s what we’ll be looking forward to doing.”

About a dozen recruits were on campus for the Blue-Gold Game, and after the game, many of them said they were impressed by the overall performance of the Irish. However, before the game three recruits committed to Notre Dame. Linebacker Jarrett Grace and offensive linemen Conor Hanratty and Tony Springmann verbally accepted scholarship offers from Brian Kelly. Earlier in the week, cornerback Matthias Farley did the same.