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Late interception seals ND’s fate

Molly Sammon | Monday, November 1, 2010

With only 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Tulsa cornerback John Flanders and Irish junior receiver Michael Floyd battled for a Tommy Rees pass deep in the end zone.

When Flanders fell to the ground holding the ball tight, Notre Dame’s chances of winning the back-and-forth game went out the window, as the Golden Hurricane held onto a 28-27 victory.

“I would make the call again and I would hope that the process of learning would have a different outcome,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said of the play call.

Though freshman quarterback Tommy Rees had moved the Irish into field goal range on the drive, Kelly stood by his decision to go for the possible touchdown.

“We knew we had a one-on-one matchup with Mike Floyd. We certainly wanted to give that an opportunity for success and score a touchdown there,” Kelly said. “We took a timeout there to talk about it. I think we all know what happened there.”

Kelly said the decision reflects how he has built his offense to play and he would make the same decision again.

“But keep in mind, you better get used to it, because that’s the way we’re playing. If we can get a one-on-one matchup, and we think we can get that accomplished, we’re going to call that play again and again,” he said. “We’ll make that play. We didn’t make it today. But in time we’ll make that play.”

Not only did the Irish lose the game, but they also lost junior quarterback Dayne Crist for the remainder of the season. In the second quarter, Crist ran the ball 29 yards for a first down, but fell and tore the petallar tendon in his left knee.

Rees stepped in and took over for Crist after the season-ending injury. Rees threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns, two to Floyd and two to sophomore running back Cierre Wood.

“He wasn’t expected to play at all, so to fill that role with Dayne [Crist] going out. He did an exceptional job and he can only get better,” Floyd said. “That last play, it’s nothing he should put in his own hands — it’s a team effort.”

Kelly’s comments concerning Rees’ play Saturday sounded very similar to Floyd’s comments.

“[Rees is a] true freshman going out there, hasn’t played. He just competes. Took some big hits, got right back up,” Kelly said. “He’s a competitive kid. He loves to play. Throwing the ball is where he’s at. You know, that’s what he does well. He gets the ball out of his hands. He reads things.”

Finishing the drive that injured Crist, Rees connected with Floyd for a 10-yard touchdown to bring the Irish within one of Tulsa, 7-6. Shortly after the extra point attempt left senior kicker David Ruffer’s foot, Tulsa’s Curnelius Arnick cradled the ball as he raced down the sideline for two Golden Hurricane points.

Even after losing the momentum, Notre Dame took a 13-12 lead into the second quarter after a little bit of trickery led to Rees’ second touchdown of the day. Rees initially threw a short slant pass to freshman receiver TJ Jones. Before taking two steps, Jones pitched the ball to Wood as he flew down the sideline for a 23-yard score.

Heading into halftime, the Irish held a 20-18 lead after Rees connected with Floyd for yet another touchdown.

Rees wasn’t done yet either. To open the second half’s scoring, he found Wood for a six-yard score, bringing Notre Dame’s lead to 27-18.

Tulsa retook the lead with 3:27 left in the game of a 29-yard field goal. The 28-27 lead held until Flanders fell to the grass with Rees’ final pass attempt of the day.

Notre Dame was handicapped throughout the day as Crist joined senior running back Armando Allen, junior tight end Kyle Rudolph and sophomore receiver Theo Riddick on the sideline. While Kelly announced before the game Rudolph and Riddick would be held out of action, the absence of Allen was a game day surprise to spectators.

“[Armando] may be out,” Kelly said after the game. “We’re not certain on that, but he wanted to dress and run through the tunnel in case it was his last time playing at Notre Dame

“It seems every medical report I get, it ends with, done for the season.”

With those players not on the field, Notre Dame has seen a large showing of younger players taking the most important snaps.

“We had a lot of freshmen out there today, learning how to play this game, fighting,” Kelly said. “You got [freshman tight end] Tyler Eifert … You got TJ Jones. [Sophomore receiver] Robby Toma hasn’t played … They’re battling. I couldn’t be more proud of those kids.”

Rees ended the game, his first with significant playing time, with 33 completions on 54 pass attempts.

Eifert pulled in five of Rees’ passes for 61 yards, and Jones matched him with five catches for 31 yards. Toma had four catches for 67 yards.

Those youngsters will likely lead the Irish the rest of the season, as Notre Dame looks to win two of its final three games to qualify for a bowl game.

“The most important thing still is for us to get six wins,” Kelly said. “We got to win two out of three now. That’s our No. 1 goal, to win two out of three games minimally to get to six wins.”

Notre Dame has a bye this weekend, and then hosts No. 6 Utah on Nov. 13.