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The drought is over

Madeline Buckley | Tuesday, November 30, 2010

LOS ANGELES — When senior Scott McIntosh attended the Notre Dame football game at USC in 2008, the Irish entered the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a 6-5 record, and rumors that then-head coach Charlie Weis would be fired were already swirling.

McIntosh recalled the grim mood of Irish fans before that game and said energy flagged even more when USC pummeled the Irish 38-3.

But when he returned to the Coliseum Saturday, the mood of Notre Dame fans was palpably more energetic.

“This year, everyone was definitely much rowdier, and I think you could get a sense that this is a more competitive game, more evenly matched,” he said. “You could feel there was a chance we would win.”

Rain pelted fans in the stadium for much of the second half, but students who trekked to Southern California for Saturday’s game said watching Notre Dame’s 20-16 victory over USC was a satisfying and exciting end to a season of highs and lows.

For McIntosh, a former resident of Alumni Hall, the best part of the game was senior safety Harrison Smith’s interception near the goal line at the end of the fourth quarter, stopping USC from completing what could have been a last minute, game winning touchdown.

“We lived in Alumni with Harrison Smith. I didn’t know him, but to see a senior come up with huge play at end was amazing,” McIntosh said.

Senior Zach Reuvers, who traveled to Los Angeles for the game, said the fourth quarter brought flashbacks of tantalizing games that were lost in the last few plays, particularly the most recent 28-27 loss to Tulsa on the final play.

But the win against USC made up for four years of disappointing losses, Reuvers said.

“After Harrison [Smith] came back and intercepted, the joy and eruption and everyone screaming and jumping was unbelievable to watch,” he said.

Students highlighted USC quarterback Mitch Mustain’s incomplete pass to receiver Ronald Johnson in the fourth quarter as a game-changing moment.

Senior Sarah Wanek said that dropped pass was when she began to believe the Irish would win.

“Being a Notre Dame fan, you always want to go in with the expectation that we will win even though we’ve been used to losing,” she said. “Especially with that dropped pass, once that happened, it gave me confidence that we would win.”

Reuvers said he breathed a sigh of relief when Johnson missed the pass.

“When he dropped the ball — that was the end zone we were in — everyone just let out a huge gasp,” he said.

In between the masses of maroon at USC, students said Notre Dame fans had a strong presence at the game.

Junior Caroline Walsh sat in the USC student section with a friend and said she could hear Irish fans cheering from across the stadium.

“When it got to the fourth quarter and USC was not doing well, I could hear Notre Dame fans screaming, ‘Let’s go Irish,'” Walsh said. “Viewing that from the student section of USC and seeing the Irish fans getting rowdy in the rain was awesome.”

Reuvers said Notre Dame made its mark on the pregame atmosphere on USC’s campus with numerous tailgates and displays of blue and gold.

“It felt like the Notre Dame tailgating experience was transplanted to Southern Cal,” he said. “It was almost like being home a little bit. Being surrounded by a sea of green felt good.”

But sitting in the USC student section sporting Irish colors, Walsh said she experienced some animosity.

“During the fourth quarter when it was so intense, I was getting some glares for cheering when everyone else was silent,” Walsh said.

Despite a storied rivalry between USC and Notre Dame, senior Kristen Tappel left the Coliseum with a positive impression of the USC fans surrounding her. One of her friends dressed for the warm weather before the game, and didn’t have a jacket when the weather turned cold and rainy.

“They saw that she didn’t have a jacket on her and gave her a blanket,” Tappel said. “Everyone was worried and offering blankets, trying to keep everyone dry and having a good time.”

Tappel said she is hopeful the momentum from Saturday’s victory will be a turning point for the football program.

“This is what [Irish coach] Brian Kelly has been saying. Changes within the organization were hard to see with some of the losses earlier on, and now those changes are starting to show,” she said.

Laura McCrystal contributed to this report.