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Time to play the waiting game

Chris Hine | Monday, October 13, 2008

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Some stood, some sat, some tried to stay loose, but everyone on Notre Dame’s sidelines was doing the same thing – waiting.

With just under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, few words were spoken on that sideline, there was only waiting for the officials upstairs to either grant Notre Dame one last opportunity, or end its hope of a last-second victory.

Initially, the officials ruled that Tar Heels wide receiver Brooks Foster had controlled a first-down catch that would have essentially ended the game. But the official upstairs wanted to take another look.

While they did, most of the offensive line sat on a bench, silent. Sam Young tried to keep himself loose. Jimmy Clausen stood, then crouched, then kneeled away from the bench closer to the field, not sure what to do with himself while everybody waited, plotting what the Irish needed to do should they get one final shot.

“We were thinking, ‘If we get the ball, we’ve got to move. This is our last chance. We’ve got to call the best plays, we’ve got to get open, we’ve got to stay on blocks, do everything we could to win,'” wide receiver Golden Tate said.

If they wanted to see for themselves what happened on the play, they were out of luck. The video board at Kenan Stadium didn’t show the play, just a revolving Tar Heels helmet.

So they waited as the referee stepped on the field. Once he did, he got about five words into his explanation that Foster did not have possession of the ball before the sideline erupted. The linemen sprang from the bench, Clausen threw on his helmet and they prepared themselves while North Carolina punted.

There was 1:47 left, 82 yards to go and one timeout. There was also hope.

The drive started off well, with completions of 30 yards to Tate, eight to Kamara, 12 more to Tate. Those catches were followed by a few incomplete passes and a sack where Clausen ran out of bounds. Then, on a play that coach Charlie Weis said he “drew in the dirt,” there was the fateful post route to freshman wideout Michael Floyd. He caught it, was hit and rolled over a defender. The ball came loose and chaos ensued.

North Carolina picked up the ball, but the officials on the field said Floyd was down. Out of timeouts, Notre Dame tried to down the ball with one second left. The clock hit zero, players rushed the field, but the officials quickly got them back to the sideline while the booth reviewed, well just about everything about the play.

That meant more waiting. The offense got together with the coaches and got its play ready, thinking it’d have one more to run.

“That’s all we were thinking about,” Clausen said. “I just wanted one more chance to help this team win.”

Again, the video board just showed that damned revolving helmet.

The referee trotted back out, only this time, the hope of victory was gone – Floyd was not down when he let go of the ball. North Carolina had the ball and the victory, a victory the Irish thought was going to be theirs.

Replay can giveth hope and replay can taketh hope away – but not all of it.

With that game, and that gutsy drive, the Irish gave their fans hope for the future. Notre Dame’s last two wins were nice, but games the Irish should have easily won.

This one was more of a question mark – facing a ranked opponent, on the road, especially after Notre Dame’s dismal showing in its first road game, a 23-7 loss at Michigan State.

And Notre Dame was up to the challenge.

Clausen didn’t have a good second half, throwing a pick six, another interception and fumbling, but he nearly led Notre Dame to a comeback win and threw for 383 yards.

Michael Floyd may be kicking himself over that last play, but he didn’t cost Notre Dame the game and he’s one of the top freshmen in the country right now with a brilliant collegiate career lined up.

And the defense may have allowed the go-ahead score, but it did get a key stop in the fourth quarter to give the offense a chance.

Notre Dame has a bright, BCS-filled future ahead of itself.

All that’s left to do is wait.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Hine at [email protected]