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Irish battle back, beat Boilermakers, 31-24

Jack Hefferon | Sunday, September 15, 2013

WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. – It’s never been easy for No. 21 Notre Dame this year, and a feisty Purdue squad made it particularly difficult for the Irish, especially in the first half. But with three touchdowns in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, Notre Dame recovered quickly enough to claim a 31-24 victory over the Boilermakers on Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Junior receiver DaVaris Daniels did much of the work in digging the Irish (2-1) out of a 17-10 deficit, scoring touchdowns on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter and finishing with eight catches and 167 yards. The Irish defense followed up on the next drive with the game’s decisive score, as senior cornerback and captain Bennett Jackson ran back a perfectly jumped interception.

The end result may have been to Notre Dame’s liking, but Purdue (1-2) dominated in the early going. The Boilermakers won the coin toss and chose to receive, then promptly marched on the Irish defense. On the 12th play of the drive, redshirt senior quarterback Rob Henry found junior running back Akeem Hunt in the flat. The speedy Hunt rounded the edge, burst through the closing Irish defense and scampered 15 yards for the game’s opening score.

Notre Dame’s first half was marked by miscues from their first snap, which went straight through senior quarterback Tommy Rees’ hands. Rees was just 8-for-17 in the half and the running game was not much better, amassing just 29 yards on 15 carries.

An early second-quarter field goal by sophomore Paul Griggs gave the Boilermakers a 10-0 lead, and they could have been up 13 if Griggs hadn’t missed from 27 yards a few minutes earlier.

Notre Dame was able to put together an 80-yard drive late in the half, the bulk of which came when Rees hit sophomore receiver Chris Brown down the sideline for a 40-yard gain. The drive stalled in the red zone, however, as Daniels slipped on his third-down fade route and junior kicker Kyle Brindza came on to make a 20-yard field goal.

Purdue rebounded quickly, though, as redshirt freshman receiver B.J. Knauf found a seam on the ensuing kickoff and brought it out to nearly midfield before Brindza impeded his progress. Eight plays later it was Knauf again catching a quick pass out of the slot and shaking past junior safety Matthias Farley and through sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell for a 15-yard touchdown.

The Irish brought the score back level 13 seconds into the fourth quarter. After two incomplete passes from Rees left the Irish with third-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Daniels found open grass in the Purdue band’s corner of the field and reeled in his third touchdown of the season.

Notre Dame fed Daniels again on its next play, and Daniels provided the same result. The 6-foot-1 junior caught a ball down the right sideline, then tiptoed the sideline chalk while dragging senior cornerback Ricardo Allen for nearly all of his 82-yard score.

Henry made his only big mistake of the night on the ensuing possession, as Jackson undercut an out route and took the interception back to the house, giving the Irish a 31-17 lead.

Jackson’s interception gave the Irish their third touchdown in a 3:29 stretch, but Purdue wouldn’t go down quietly. Henry brought the Boilermakers back into it with two back-footed throws – the first a 48-yard prayer over the middle that caught both Jackson and Farley with their heads turned, the second a nine-yard touchdown toss to junior tight end Justin Sinz.

That brought the Boilers within one score, and they quickly earned a chance to equalize after forcing a fumble by Irish junior running back Amir Carlisle. But the Notre Dame defense answered with some of its best football of the season, forcing a quick three-and-out. With seven-and-a-half minutes left to play and all three of his timeouts, Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell opted to punt the ball back to the Irish.

Thanks to Cam McDaniel, the Irish never gave it back. Everyone in Ross-Ade Stadium knew the Irish would run the ball up the middle, but the junior running back ran there anyway. McDaniel rushed the ball on 10 of Notre Dame’s final 11 plays, amassed 48 yards on that drive alone and exhausted the last of the game clock to secure the Irish victory.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu