Irish pull out win over Eagles despite five turnovers in bizarre game at Fenway Park
Mary Green | Monday, November 23, 2015
BOSTON — No. 4 Notre Dame faced Boston College in a game held at Fenway Park on Saturday night, the first time football has been played in the shadow of the Green Monster since 1968.
And yet, that wasn’t even close to the strangest part of the 19-16 Irish win.
The Irish (10-1) turned the ball over five times, with two lost fumbles and three interceptions thrown by sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer. Three of those turnovers came in the red zone, an area Notre Dame visited seven times Saturday but had just 19 points to show for it.
“It’s like leaving runners in scoring position,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “… You can’t go down there and not come away with points, especially — that’s a really good defense, and for us to come up empty every single time, you know, we saw that almost sort of against Temple, too. You’ve got to score points when you’re down there. We’re moving the ball fairly effectively most of the night, and just to keep stubbing our toe down there becomes concerning, obviously, and it made it a lot closer in my perspective.”
However, the Eagles offense, statistically the worst in the country headed into the matchup, wasn’t any better. Boston College (3-8, 0-7 ACC) didn’t cross the 50-yard line until the third quarter, a feat they accomplished in just three of their 14 drives during the game.
Notre Dame entered Eagles territory during five of its first-half possessions, but only two of those ended with points on the board.
The Irish capped their first drive with an interception by Boston College junior safety John Johnson in the end zone, but followed the next drive with a 30-yard field goal by freshman kicker Justin Yoon to put them ahead, 3-0.
The next Notre Dame possession ended with a fumble at the BC 32-yard line by senior running back C.J. Prosise, which was recovered by senior safety Justin Simmons. Prosise later exited the game in the second quarter with an injury, which Kelly said postgame was a high ankle sprain, and he had totaled 54 yards on nine rushes to that point.
Boston College was not able to capitalize on either turnover, punting the first away and turning the ball over on downs via an unsuccessful fake punt after the fumble. Graduate student cornerback Matthias Farley made the tackle on the fake and later downed a punt inside the BC five-yard line and recovered an onside kick with the Irish ahead by three with 54 seconds left to earn the game ball from Kelly.
“We were always on high alert for a play like that,” Farley said of the fake punt. “They also had two smaller guys as the shields, which is abnormal. So it signaled something was up, and we just reacted to our key when it happens.”
Notre Dame started its next drive after Farley’s stop at the Eagles’ 40-yard line and finished with a 10-yard pass from Kizer to graduate student receiver Amir Carlisle for a touchdown, going ahead 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Saturday marked a career day for both Carlisle and senior receiver Chris Brown. Carlisle set a new best with seven catches for 97 yards, while Brown totaled six grabs for a game-high 104 yards, the first time he’s ever surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark.
Neither team scored in the second quarter, but Notre Dame turned the ball over twice more on a fumble by freshman running back Josh Adams at the BC three-yard line and an interception by Simmons in Eagles territory.
The Adams fumble was an especially painful miscue for Notre Dame, as senior long snapper Scott Daly had just recovered an Eagles fumble at the four-yard line to put his team in good position to score.
“Turnovers happen; it’s the best defense in the country going against you,” Farley said. “They fly around, and their secondary played incredibly well, ripping at the ball every chance they get, so it’s just about going back to the basics of protecting the ball and having our defense finish strong.”
Following a 43-yard Boston College field goal, Kizer opened the second half with his third interception of the night, another back-footed heave that found Simmons wide-open in the middle of the field.
“It was very humbling,” Kizer said. “There’s a lot to learn from, being in a position that I haven’t been in this year. I can’t wait to get back and evaluate where my mistakes were, where my good things were, and hopefully prepare myself to try and accomplish the mission.
“At the end of the day, today’s mission was accomplished.”
The Eagles punted on the ensuing possession, and Kizer responded on the next drive, finding Brown in the back-right corner of the end zone for another touchdown to go ahead by 13, 16-3. Kizer botched the hold on the resulting point-after attempt, turning it into a two-point conversion that fell short of the goal line.
“I think that quarterbacks can at times be — they can go one of two ways, right: They can become a bit shell-shocked and withdrawn in a sense,” Kelly said of Kizer, who passed for 320 yards. “He was not fazed at all. He stayed aggressive and stayed in the moment. I thought he played much better in the second half.”
The drive at the end of the third quarter also featured the first catch of the game by junior receiver Will Fuller. Fuller was targeted six total times Saturday but only grabbed three balls for 72 yards. One of those incompletions was a dropped would-be touchdown in the fourth quarter, one of Fuller’s three drops on the day.
After an Eagles punt, Yoon knocked in another field goal to extend the Irish lead to 19-3, but BC freshman quarterback Justin Smith sprinted 80 yards downfield on the next play for a touchdown that brought the score to 19-9 after another unsuccessful two-point try.
“God blessed me with great speed, and also with great teammates like [junior running back] Myles Willis,” Smith said. “He was speaking to me before the play, telling me to make sure I read the play out. After that, I just used speed to score.”
The next three consecutive drives ended with punts, and the Eagles had the ball with four minutes to play. Freshman quarterback John Fadule led their offense down the field and eventually hit sophomore receiver Charlie Callinan for a three-yard touchdown with 54 seconds left to put cut the Irish advantage to 19-16.
Farley recovered the ensuing onside kick to dash Boston College’s upset hopes and seal the win for the Irish.
“We’re excited about the win, obviously,” Kelly said. “To get to 10 wins for our club was a very important number for us. But more importantly, gets us closer to, you know, the goals we’ve had all year.
“You know what I love about this team is they persevere. It’s been injuries all year. Tonight it was turnovers. Just found a way to win against a very spirited Boston College team despite the amount of turnovers that we had tonight.”
Notre Dame closes out its regular season next Saturday with a game at No. 11 Stanford in Stanford, California.