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Football: Lambert pick gives Irish victory

Kyle Cassily | Monday, September 25, 2006

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Notre Dame cornerback Terrail Lambert anticipated Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton’s drag-route pass to Kerry Reed, intercepted it and took it for the game-winning touchdown – and a little vindication.

A week after the junior allowed Michigan wide receiver Mario Manningham to burn him on 20 and 22-yard second-quarter touchdown passes from quarterback Chad Henne, Lambert made two interceptions in Notre Dame’s 40-37 comeback win over Michigan State.

“I’m just so happy for Terrail because I know he got a lot of stuff from a lot of people last week,” Irish free safety Chinedum Ndukwe said. “This kid’s a fighter, and he never let it get to him, and that’s what you have to have as a defensive back – you have to have a short memory.”

Lambert intercepted Stanton’s pass with 2:53 left in the fourth quarter at the Spartan 27-yard line and sprinted to the right pylon, then made an inside cut into the end zone off a Travis Thomas block at the five-yard line for the 40-37 Irish lead.

“Right now I’m kind of liking Lambert a little bit,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said with a chuckle when asked if it was hard to single out one Notre Dame hero for the game.

The interception was the first of Lambert’s career and came on a Michigan State third-and-three from its own 19-yard line.

“Time sort of stood still,” Lambert said of the play. “I remember just having the ball in my possession, and I’m running with the ball, and it was just complete silence. I could have heard a pin drop, knowing even though it was probably loud around me cause the fans were going crazy.

“I couldn’t hear anything. I was just like, ‘Oh my God, the ball’s in my hands.'”

The junior was aided on the pick by a timely blitz from junior linebacker Maurice Crum, who harassed Stanton in the pocket and forced a rushed throw.

After Lambert’s touchdown return, Michigan State drove 33 yards in seven plays, trying to get into field goal range. Stanton ran a seven-yard option left for a first down, getting out-of-bounds at the Notre Dame 44-yard line with 32 seconds remaining.

On the ensuing play, Irish defensive end Victor Abiamiri forced Stanton to scramble out of the pocket to the right and throw across his body to Reed in double coverage on the Notre Dame 27-yard line.

Irish cornerback Mike Richardson tipped the ball with his arm, before it bounced off of Lambert and on to Richardson’s back. From there the ball careened back toward Lambert and off his leg onto a spinning Reed’s back.

Lambert dove toward Reed, grabbed the ball before it fell to the ground and planted his knee in-bounds to secure the interception and end the game.

“That’s what we see all the time,” Irish strong safety Tom Zbikowski said. “We knew [Lambert] had it in him and it was only a matter of time before he made those type of plays. Hopefully he’ll continue to just keep getting better.”

The Spartans challenged Lambert on their final drive, as Stanton completed 13 and 10-yard consecutive completions to wide receiver Matt Trannon in front of him.

“All you can do is just bounce back and keep your head up,” Lambert said. “Always worry about the next play, because the next play is always the most important play on defense.”

Lambert has seen significant time this season when the Irish have employed the nickel formation after appearing in 12 games his sophomore year, mostly seeing playing time on special teams. He made five tackles against the Spartans Saturday.

And for Purdue, Lambert is nothing but an optimist after the harshest and most celebrated games of his career.

“I can definitely build on this,” he said. “It’s just great to know that I have teammates to support me. Because after the Michigan game, I was kind of hanging my head down and they uplifted me.

“We lose as a team, we win as a team.”