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Samardzija passes Mayes as top TD man

Ken Fowler | Monday, November 6, 2006

Irish senior Jeff Samardzija set the program record for career touchdown receptions Saturday with his 23rd scoring catch.

Samardzija grabbed a 42-yard pass from Irish quarterback Brady Quinn with 8:10 left in the third quarter to set the record, previously held by former Notre Dame wide out Derrick Mayes. The play gave the Irish a 38-19 lead over North Carolina.

“It was just another touchdown out there, but I’m sure down the road it will be a cool thing to look back on,” Samardzija said. “I’m just happy that it was a big touchdown the game that really pulled us away. … I hope someone breaks it sometime soon.”

All of Samardzija’s touchdowns have come in the past two seasons. The 2005 consensus All-American started just one game – the 2004 Insight Bowl – and had only 24 receptions before his junior season. He has 136 in Notre Dame’s last 21 games. Samardzija had 15 touchdowns last season as he replaced an injured Rhema McKnight in the team’s starting lineup.

“There’s a guy, a perfect example of a guy who is making the most of the opportunity when it’s presenting itself,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “He’s running with it. He’s putting himself in a position to not only have a great career at this level but go on and have a great one at the next level.”

With two receiving touchdowns Saturday, McKnight tied former teammate Maurice Stovall for fourth on Notre Dame’s all-time list at 18.

Defenses can’t stop Quinn

Quinn extended his school-record streak of pass attempts without an interception to 204 Saturday. His last interception came in the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 40-37 win over Michigan State Sept. 23 when Spartans defensive end Ervin Baldwin ran 19 yards for a touchdown on Quinn’s errant pass.

“Brady Quinn is a hell of a player,” Tar Heels coach John Bunting said. “I knew that coming in. They do a terrific job.”

With his four touchdown throws, Quinn moved into 16th place all-time in NCAA with 83 touchdown scores for his career. His single-season high of 346 passing yards give him 10,915 for his career, which is good for 20th in Division I-A history.

Third quarter was Nicks’ time

Tar Heels freshman wide receiver Hakeem Nicks’ 171 receiving yards marked the second time this year an Irish opponent recorded more than 150 yards receiving. Hicks had five catches for 150 yards in the third quarter, and his only other reception was a 21-yard catch in the first quarter.

Weis declined to comment on Nicks’ play.

“I’m not talking about their players,” Weis said. “I’m talking about our players. You ask them about their players.”

Purdue sophomore wide receiver Selwyn Lymon had eight catches for 238 yards in the Boilermakers’ 35-21 loss to Notre Dame Sept. 30.

Zibby closes in on Rossum

Irish senior safety and punt returner Tom Zbikowski’s 53-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter was his seventh return touchdown.

“Once I made those first two guys miss, it was all green grass ahead,” Zbikowski said.

Zbikowski has three punt returns, two fumble returns and two interception returns for scores.

He is now two return touchdowns away from former Irish cornerback Allen Rossum’s NCAA record in the category.

Big plays hurt the Irish

The Tar Heels managed just 244 yards of offense on 49 plays, but 221 of those yards came on just eight plays. North Carolina had three runs of 10 yards or more and three passes of 20 yards or more, which fall into Weis’ category off “big plays.”

The Irish also surrendered a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown – the first time a Notre Dame opponent has scored on a kickoff since DeAndrea Cobb of Michigan State took one back 89 yards against the Irish in 2004.

Weis said he wasn’t happy about the amount of large gains Notre Dame gave up but also mentioned that several players on both teams slipped at times, which helped create some openings for receivers.

“For you to have to have a good game, [opponent’s big plays] have to be at a minimum because if not then you really haven’t achieved your goals,” Weis said.

Quick start

North Carolina won the coin toss but deferred the option to the second half. Notre Dame received for the ninth straight time to open the season, and North Carolina defended the south end zone.

The Irish drove 65 yards on six plays in 2:03 on their initial drive, as Quinn hit McKnight for a 7-yard touchdown pass to mark the fastest Notre Dame has scored this season.