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Senior Day victory brings Notre Dame relief

Chris Allen | Monday, November 15, 2010

Saturday’s 28-3 victory over Utah represented the first Notre Dame win on Senior Day since 2007, when Notre Dame beat Duke 28-7. With the win, the Irish improve to 92-24-4 all time in Senior Day games.

“The team needed [a win] badly,” senior cornerback Gary Gray said. “But mostly for the seniors because it is our last chance playing in [Notre Dame Stadium]. Since I’ve been here we haven’t beaten a ranked team. Just for the seniors to go out with a win is great.”

The Utes — who came into the game ranked No. 14 — represented the highest-ranked opponent the Irish have beaten in a Senior Day game since the 1987 season, when they disposed of No. 10 Alabama. The win also moved the all-time mark for Notre Dame in Senior Day games against ranked opponents to 16-11.

Blanton’s big play

Junior cornerback Robert Blanton’s blocked punt and subsequent touchdown in the first quarter was the first blocked punt for Notre Dame since the Hawaii Bowl in 2008. The last Irish player to return a blocked punt for a touchdown was Toryan Smith, who did so in a Nov. 15, 2008 game against Navy.

“We worked really hard this week on getting a punt,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “That was something we talked about, let’s get one.”

The touchdown was not the first of Blanton’s career, however, as he returned an interception to the end zone in a 2008 game against Purdue.

Duval finds the end zone

Senior wide receiver Duval Kamara, who set Notre Dame freshman records for catches and touchdown catches in 2007 but has struggled to find consistent production since, recorded two touchdowns in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium. Kamara’s 26-yard reception in the early moments of the second half was his first touchdown since 2009 against Washington State. When he grabbed a 12-yard pass minutes later, he completed a multiple-touchdown effort for the second time in his career. Kamara had previously hauled in two touchdowns against Navy in 2007.

“It felt amazing [to catch two TD passes],” Kamara said. “I haven’t been in the end zone in a while in this stadium.”

Kamara’s heavy playing time was partly the result of an injury to freshman wide receiver TJ Jones, who had been playing ahead of Kamara for a majority of the season.

“[Jones] got injured during the week. It was pretty physical the last ten days of practice,” Kelly said. “He’s a tough kid, but he got banged up a little bit. We just didn’t think he could go. We wanted to make sure that he’s healthy moving forward.”