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Football: Samardzija keeps cool, saves game

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

As UCLA punter Aaron Perez booted his two booming kicks with just over a minute remaining in the game, Notre Dame defensive tackle Trevor Laws was on the sideline, rubbing down the calves of Irish receiver Jeff Samardzija.

“Just trying to keep it loose,” Samardzija said. “Me and Trevor are pretty loose guys out there. You won’t see us yelling or anything too much. They came up with a good, little defensive stop. And I figured I’d use a little luck and see if he could rub up my calves a little bit before I went out there.”

Samardzija found that luck and put the massage to good use, contorting his long legs around Bruins safety Dennis Keyes and galloping into the end zone for the game-winning score.

“[Samardzija] knows he owes me something for that,” Laws quipped. “I swear of it. I rubbed those calves down and told him to [do it].”

But for Irish coach Charlie Weis, Notre Dame’s final drive had nothing to do with luck or massages; it was all about preparation.

“I think that all of the circumstances that took place from that play to the game ended, OK, were players prepared to win,” Weis said.

Weis had the drive so planned out that he was even thinking about the hashmark on which the referees would spot the ball after a punt. With the ball sitting on the right side of the of the 20 yard line, Weis got it just where he wanted it.

“It was important to me first of all to figure out whether or not the ball is going to be in the middle of the field, the left half the right half,” he said. “The first couple of calls we had were the calls that I kind of drew up on the sideline before we got the ball back, so it just happened the way you diagramed it.”

From there, Weis said, it was just “players making plays.”

With the Bruins applying pressure as they did all day, Brady Quinn rolled right and found Samardzija on the sideline. After hitting Irish wide out David Grimes on the next play, Quinn once again found Samardzija. The 6-foot-5 senior caught the ball on the UCLA 25 and added another chapter into Irish lore with his scamper to the goal line.

“It was just a calm, cool and collected mentality,” Samardzija said. “Obviously, there was a sense of urgency because we didn’t have much time left, but we went out there with our heads on straight, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

That mentality was nothing new for the Irish offense – especially Quinn and Samardzija, who have hooked up on a slew of other comeback drives before.

Against USC last season, Samardzija caught passes of 18 and 14 yards to start Notre Dame’s go-ahead drive with less than five minutes left. Six weeks later, he hauled in throws of 30 and 17 yards as the Irish went 80 yards in 50 seconds to beat Stanford and qualify for a BCS bowl.

Against Michigan State this season, Samardzija caught and ran with Brady Quinn’s 43-yard pass that began Notre Dame’s 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback.

“You’ve got to make plays when you have a chance,” Samardzija said. “You don’t know how it’s going to come or when it’s going to come, but you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Weis said those big plays come from the composure the Irish carry with them when their backs are up against the wall. He said the hours of two-minute drills in summer camp and the constant focus on time management during the course of the season – and the knowledge that they have succeeded in tight spots before -instill a confidence in the players.

“I think that this team is a very mature team that didn’t lose their composure,” Weis said. “As much as we compliment how UCLA played, I’m very proud of how the [Notre Dame players] ended this game today and you’ve got to give them credit for that.”