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Football: Almost Bruined

Chris Hine | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Brady Quinn pumped once, rolled right, and threw to his favorite receiver. In that moment, Notre Dame once again showed its flair for the dramatic.

Quinn’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija with 27 seconds remaining lifted the Irish (6-1) to a 20-17 comeback victory over UCLA (4-3, 2-2 Pac 10) and kept Notre Dame’s slim national title hopes alive.

“I was about ready to throw when I saw a defender coming that way, so I kind of gave a pump and tried to move them around,” Quinn said. “I moved out of the pocket, and I found a window to Jeff, and he did the rest.”

Quinn finished 27-for-45 with 304 yards and two touchdowns.

Samardzija caught Quinn’s pass and evaded UCLA safety Dennis Keyes’ attempt to bring him down on the 20 yard-line on his way to the end zone.

“You can’t have any doubts [about staying on your feet] or else they’ll go down,” Samardzija said.

Samardzija had eight catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

The touchdown capped a three-play, 80-yard drive for Notre Dame that began with 62 seconds remaining in the game and Notre Dame trailing 17-13 without any timeouts.

On first down from the UCLA 20, Quinn found Samardzija along the right sideline for a gain of 21 yards. The senior quarterback with nearly a half-dozen fourth-quarter comebacks in his career then found Irish sophomore David Grimes – who had a career-high eight catches for 79 yards – on the same side of the field for 14 more at the UCLA 45. A play later, the comeback was complete.

“Unfortunately for us, we had a chance to win it, we were there all the way to the final minute and didn’t find a way to finish,” UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. “That’s what it comes down to. Didn’t find a way to finish.”

But Notre Dame’s final drive wasn’t the first chance the Irish had to take the lead.

With 3:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame had the ball on its own 28. After getting two first downs, the Irish faced a fourth and one, but the Bruins defensive line stuffed Quinn’s quarterback keeper short with 2:20 left in the game.

After the failed fourth down, Notre Dame called a timeout to stop the clock after the change of possession because of a recent NCAA rule change. After runs by UCLA tailback Chris Markey gained a total of three yards on the first two plays of the series, Notre Dame used its last two timeouts with 2:09 remaining.

Facing third and seven, UCLA elected to run the ball again. Notre Dame’s defense held as Travis Thomas brought down Markey for a loss of two, setting up fourth down. After alternating delay of game and defensive holding penalties, Bruin punter Aaron Perez sailed a 59-yard punt into the end zone to setup the game-winning drive.

“We had to execute better today,” said Markey, who rushed for 32 yards on 19 carries. “The game is 60 minutes long and we played for just over 59 minutes. And that’s not good enough.”

Notre Dame took a 7-0 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to Samardzija that finished off a seven-play, 44-yard drive. The key play of the series was when Quinn found tight end John Carlson for a 26-yard gain on a play-action pass on fourth-and-one from the Bruin 35.

“Sometimes you get right on the fringe – right on the fringe where you sit there and you tell your team and say, ‘Hey, fellas, we can go ahead and make this play,'” Weis said.

UCLA struck for their first points of the game early in the second quarter. Bruins wide receiver Marcus Everett’s hauled in a 54-yard touchdown reception from sophomore quarterback Patrick Cowan to tie the score at 7.

Everett finished with six catches for 102 yards and the touchdown. Cowan went 16-for-32 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

The Bruins front seven stifled Walker and pressured Quinn. Led by defensive ends Justin Hickman (three sacks) and Bruce Davis (two sacks), UCLA held Notre Dame to just 131 yards of total offense in the first half.

Later in the second quarter, Cowan found William Snead, a defensive end turned tight end, for his first career reception – and first touchdown – to take a 14-7 lead. Snead broke tackle attempts by Irish defensive backs Chinedum Ndukwe and Ray Herring on his way to a 36-yard touchdown reception.

Notre Dame ate up the last seven minutes of the half, going 77 yards on 19 plays before senior kicker Carl Gioia drilled a 20-yard field goal to enter the locker locker room trailing 14-10.

“‘Look, fellas, it’s 14-10, we haven’t played our best football,'” Weis told his team at halftime. “‘The offense, you’re kind of out there going through it, but you’re down four points.'”

Irish defensive tackle Trevor Laws recovered Cowan’s fumbled snap on the Bruin 29, but Gioia’s ensuing 48-yard field goal attempt went wide right. He hit his next attempt, a 33-yarder to cut the Bruin lead to 14-13, with 1:50 remaining in the third quarter.

On the second play of the game, Irish junior tailback Darius Walker fumbled – his first in 405 touches – and Bruin linebacker Aaron Whittington recovered on the Irish 38. Six plays later, UCLA kicker Justin Medlock came on for a 42-yard field goal. Medlock’s kick split the uprights, but UCLA had jumped the snap. Medlock’s 47-yard attempt after the penalty sailed wide right, a miss that loomed large.