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Saving the best for last

Sam Stryker | Monday, November 15, 2010

With cold gusts, intermittent rain and a No. 14 ranked opponent in the house, you could forgive Notre Dame seniors for not expecting more than participating in the traditional marshmallow toss during halftime of their final home game as students.

But then, the unthinkable happened.

Notre Dame upset Utah 28-3, giving the Irish its first Senior Day win since 2007, and the senior class, along with much of the student body, stormed the field.

Senior Nick Mancinelli said the amount of people combined with the excitement of running onto the field contributed to one particularly thrilling moment Saturday.

“I remember trying to get on the field and at one point I was moving without either of my feet touching the ground,” he said.

As a member of the Notre Dame class with the most football losses, Mancinelli had low expectations going into Saturday’s game. But he said the win was the perfect way to cap off his last experience as a member of the student section.

“I went into the game very cynical,” he said. “I thought we would be slaughtered. This is the first time in my four years where we won as an underdog.”

Mancinelli said ending his time as a member of the student section on such a high note makes up for many of the losses during the past four seasons. He also said the positive atmosphere of the game contrasted to previous games this year.

“There was something noticeably different about this game,” Mancinelli said. The entire student body was excited. It reminded me of what Notre Dame football is about. You become jaded after loss after loss. It became fun again.”

Senior Kaitie McCabe also said the combination of a final win and rushing the field made up for a lot of the difficulties the class experienced as Fighting Irish fans.

“I think it was probably the most perfect way we could have ended our four years of Notre Dame football,” she said. “Despite the rain and everything, it was a great time. Rushing the field was one of the coolest things I have done.

“Even though we were the losing-est class during our four years, we rallied and won.”

McCabe said the mood of the student section felt much more upbeat for their Senior Day than it had for other games this season, contributing to the excitement of the day.

“Especially during this season, we were really upset. But for this game everyone was talking about how they bled for this team,” she said. “We were fighting for the win. It was almost as if we hadn’t lost a lot of the games we did this season.”

Sophomore Ethan Bailey, a member of the Notre Dame Band, said he could hear the crowd’s enthusiasm over the band’s music.

“During the game there didn’t seem to be downtime,” he said. “Everyone seemed to be actively cheering during the game.”

Bailey said ending the season on such a high note was not only great for the Notre Dame student body, but especially the seniors.

“You didn’t want to end the season on a bad note. The last home game leaves an impression for the rest of the year,” he said. “It was exciting for the seniors too. It was nice to see them get excited for a game and end their four years like that.”

Senior Anna Katter said the halftime marshmallow toss, a Senior Day tradition, was a seemingly light-hearted moment that conveyed the bond the campus of Notre Dame possesses.

“It was really hilarious to tape [the marshmallows] to your body. It was fun to whip them out at halftime,” she said. “They were disgusting, but it was great to see a sea of white. It was yet another example of unity and family of our senior class.”

Katter said rushing the field also reminded her of the close-knit nature of her class.

“It was really cool to just run into people. There was just a sense that everyone was thrilled that we won and were seniors,” she said. “It was great to see people you didn’t normally associate with. It was just a sense of fun. We were all there bonded and united on the field.”

Bailey said being on the field before the rush was equally as exhilarating because members of the band are used to select number of students being on the turf after games.

“It was really awesome to see everyone trying to climb over from the student section,” he said. “It was funny having friends come up to me after the game on the field. That has never happened before.”

McCabe said despite the excitement of being on the field, the throngs of students still had respect for the sentimentality of the experience.

“Everyone was really excited to rush the field, but when the Alma Mater came on, it was a reflective moment,” she said. “Everyone stopped amidst the chaos.”

Now, in addition to being the losing-est class in history, seniors can add another notch to their belt:

“Not many seniors can say the best game was the last game of their four years,” Mancinelli said.