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Week Eleven: Boston College

Cory Bernard | Monday, November 21, 2011

On an emotional night for its seniors, Notre Dame gutted out a close 16-14 victory over determined underdog Boston College, utilizing staunch defense and three field goals from fifth-year kicker David Ruffer.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said he was pleased to see his team emerge victorious in a hard-fought game.

“It’s a pretty happy locker room, a great win for us,” he said. “The kids persevered and played hard for four quarters. We asked them to play hard for four quarters and they did that tonight – just a satisfying win as a football coach to see your team battle. We’ve overcome a lot of things, and it’s just a really nice victory for our football team today.”

Junior running back Cierre Wood led the Irish rushing attack with 98 yards on 26 carries, as Notre Dame (8-3) outrushed the Eagles with 161 rushing yards to Boston College’s 80. The Irish outgained the Eagles by a total count of 417 yards to 250.

Wood’s total pushes his rushing mark to 1,001 yards on the season, Notre Dame’s first 1000-yard rusher since Darius Walker in 2006. Senior receiver Michael Floyd snared 10 catches for 92 yards to pace the aerial assault and went over 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight season.

The Irish did not leave the contest unscathed, however. Senior running back Jonas Gray appeared to seriously injure his knee in the third quarter. Kelly confirmed Sunday the injury will likely end Gray’s Notre Dame career.

“It’s pretty apparent he’s got a significant knee injury,” Kelly said.

After the game, Kelly said the senior addressed his emotional teammates.

“He talked to the team after,” Kelly said of Gray. “He’s a great young man, you know, it’s just – it’s emotional when you don’t know if you’re going to be able to play your last game or not. It’s still uncertain until he gets more medical information. There are a lot of emotions in that locker room.”

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees echoed Kelly’s sentiment.

“[Jonas Gray] and I have been close a long time, and I just thanked him for everything he’s helped me with,” Rees said. “To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be in a position I am in if it wasn’t for him, so he helped me out a lot. I feel bad for a guy when he gets banged up like that, so my best toward him.”

Gray scored Notre Dame’s lone touchdown of the day with a 26-yard scamper that capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive to open the game. Kelly attributed his offense’s struggles after the opening drive to a number of factors, adding that the close score didn’t surprise him.

“Give credit to Boston College, now, they played well today,” Kelly said. “Coming in 3-7, this was their ballgame and they played hard, and Coach Spaziani had his kids playing hard, but the field position was difficult to manage, and the weather. The weather conditions were hard and blustery, so we had to manage. We knew what kind of game this was going to end up being, and it certainly turned out that way.”

After jumping to a 10-0 lead after their first two drives, the Irish offense stalled, resulting in three straight punts. With three minutes remaining in the half, Boston College finally scratched its way onto the scoreboard. Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Bordner ran into the end zone from two yards out to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive.

With the Eagles within three points, Notre Dame marched into Boston College territory on its last drive of the half. However, Rees tossed a pair of incompletions and Ruffer entered for his second field goal of the game, making the halftime score 13-7.

Kelly praised Ruffer’s ability to overcome an early-season slump and once again play well.

“His perseverance, sticking with it,” Kelly said. “[Freshman kicker] Kyle [Brindza] is going through that same mental wall, if you will, of breaking through. David stuck with it, broke through it, and he’s been obviously great the last month.”

In the second half, Notre Dame’s offense again struggled, leading to three punts and a turnover in the third quarter. The turnover, an interception by Boston College junior defensive end Max Holloway, put the Eagles in Irish territory with 5:25 left in the third quarter. However, Notre Dame’s defense forced a three-and-out, one of six such drives for Boston College on the day.

Kelly said his team dealt with adversity throughout the week, having to practice without several key players. He said despite the setbacks, the defense played well.

“The defense played very, very stout today and found a way to win,” Kelly said. “We had Harrison Smith in the infirmary last night, getting [intravenous fluids.] We had Zack Martin out. Stephon Tuitt couldn’t play because of illness. R.J. Blanton didn’t practice for two days because of illness, and I didn’t give you all the injuries … My point is this: those kids stepped up in November and with a lot of guys out, found a way to win.”

Though they allowed a 72-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to cut their lead to 16-14, the Irish easily covered the ensuing onside kick attempt with 1:57 remaining to all but eliminate the Eagles’ chances.

Though still a sophomore, Rees said he can appreciate a senior-day victory.

“It means everything,” he said. “It’s great. You can’t give a senior anything better than a win. I’ll be in that position one day, and I would want to go out on a win, and two years in a row now where we put together a win for them – you see the guys get emotional. It really shows how special Notre Dame is and how much it means to all of our guys.”

Floyd said the significance of competing in his final home game had not yet registered.

“It feels great,” he said. “I don’t think the emotions will hit until you leave this place. I don’t really feel that emotional right now, but I guarantee once you leave this university it’s all going to hit you.”