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Defending their ranking

Matt Puglisi | Friday, October 1, 2004

The No. 23 Irish (5-2-1 overall, 2-1-0 in Big East) look to “stay in the spotlight” – and stay ranked – when they host Big East rival and current conference leader No. 9 Boston College (6-1-0, 3-1-0) tonight at 7:30 p.m. before welcoming Loyola-Chicago (1-6-1) to Alumni Field Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

After starting the season ranked No. 9, losses to No. 1 Indiana and West Virginia have steadily dropped the Irish to the No. 23 spot.

Led by preseason Big East defender of the year Guy Melamed and freshman phenom Charlie Davies, the Golden Eagles are back on track after finishing ninth in conference play (6-7-4 overall, 3-5-2 in Big East) and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years last season.

“I would say it’s the best Boston College team there’s been in quite some time,” coach Bobby Clark said. “They’re ranked as high as ninth in the country, and I think that’s a deserved ranking. They’re the best team in New England now and one of the best in the country.”

Boston College has hit the ground running thus far, ripping off four straight victories before stumbling against Villanova in a 2-1 loss Sept. 18. The Eagles immediately rebounded, topping a pair of Big East opponents – Providence and No. 11 St. John’s – to move into a first-place three-way tie with Villanova and St. John’s heading into tonight’s showdown.

The Irish currently sit in a four-way fourth place tie, three points behind the conference leaders.

In the last matchup between the Irish and Eagles in 2002 – the squads did not meet last season – Notre Dame edged Boston College in a thrilling 1-0 overtime victory at Alumni Field.

After nearly netting the game-winner 13 minutes into the second half, the Irish waited until three minutes into the first overtime period to take the contest. Receiving a pass down the left sideline from graduated senior Justin Detter, current senior Luke Boughen hammered a shot into the right corner of the net for the victory.

Boasting eight international players, Boston College’s roster is anything but ordinary.

“They’ve got a lot of interesting players,” Clark said. “For the first time, [the Eagles] have taken a lot of foreign players, some of them a bit older. They’re a very good team, and everything points to it being a fabulous game.”

Following tonight’s contest, the Irish lock horns with a struggling Loyola-Chicago squad for a Sunday non-conference matinee.

While the Ramblers haven’t exactly set the soccer world on fire this season, Clark and the Irish certainly aren’t underestimating them.

“It will be a tough game,” Clark said. “For teams that aren’t doing well – it doesn’t look as though they’ve got a squad that will make the tournament – the thing that would make their season is taking a few good scalps. They’ll be very excited to come into South Bend and play Notre Dame, so we’ve got to make sure that we don’t add to their excitement.”

As was the case with Boston College, the last time Notre Dame played Loyola-Chicago – November 2002 – the Irish escaped with a hard-fought 1-0 victory on a late goal, this time off the foot of graduated midfielder Greg Martin with just under 12 minutes to play.

Notre Dame enters this weekend’s play on the heels of its first conference road trip of the season.

The Irish suffered their first Big East loss of the season Sept. 24, dropping a 1-0 decision to West Virginia on a second half goal by the Mountaineers’ Jerrod Smith.

While the rough road conditions undoubtedly factored into the equation, Clark doesn’t believe they were the only reason Notre Dame came up short.

“I think maybe we didn’t quite get our focus right for the West Virginia game,” Clark said. “I’m not taking anything away from West Virginia, but I just don’t think our focus was as good as maybe it should have been for that game.”

Despite the setback, the Irish wasted little time righting the ship, gutting out a 1-0 shutout of Big East-leader Villanova on forward Justin McGeeney’s unassisted game-winning tally two minutes after halftime.

The victory left the Irish with a 1-1 mark on the trip.

“The positive was obviously that we beat Villanova – got a good victory there,” Clark said. “We found out just how hard it is to win games in the Big East. Every game, be it home or away, is very difficult.”

After battling Boston College and Loyola-Chicago this weekend, Notre Dame hosts Pittsburgh Thursday night in game three of a five-game homestand.