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Big win in the Big Apple

Laura Myers | Monday, November 22, 2010

Nearly a month ago, Notre Dame faced Navy and its triple-option offensive scheme to disastrous results at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Against another triple-option Academy in an even more prestigious venue Saturday, Notre Dame’s defense led the way to a huge victory.

The Irish capped a weekend of festivities with a 27-3 win over Army in Yankee Stadium. The biggest celebration may be yet to come, though, as the win, Notre Dame’s second straight, made the Irish (6-5) eligible to be selected for a bowl game.

“Everyone feels great,” freshman quarterback Tommy Rees said. “Two wins now, to be bowl eligible, playing in New York City, Yankee Stadium, coming out with the win.”

Leading up to the game, Notre Dame virtually took over New York City, with a pep rally in Lincoln Center, a marching band performance in Times Square and even an appearance at the NASDAQ MarketSite to ring the stock market’s closing bell.

“New York’s a lot of things, and what it was tonight was a college football town,” Kelly said. “It was an exciting atmosphere, and I know that our kids fed off the energy that was here in New York for the past 48 hours.”

It took a bit of time for the Irish to take over at Yankee Stadium, though.

Notre Dame opened the game with a 69-yard drive that ended with an interception at its own two-yard line. Army then marched down the field in a 78-yard drive before kicking a field goal. The Black Knights led 3-0 after the first quarter.

But then, the Irish defense took over.

In the final three quarters, Notre Dame held Army to 86 yards of offense, two less than the Black Knights had in the first quarter. They allowed the Black Knights a total of 174 yards, far less than the 438 yards Navy gained on Oct. 23.

“We’re playing fast. We’re playing physical,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We don’t look like a team in November that is not physically stronger, not in better condition.”

Between this win and Notre Dame’s 28-3 victory over Utah on Nov. 13, the Irish have yet to allow a touchdown in the month of November. The last time Notre Dame held opponents without a touchdown in two straight games was against Rice and Penn State on Nov. 5 and 12, 1988.

“They know what they’re doing,” Kelly said. “Navy caught us. What’s the analogy there, first time shame on you, second time, shame on me. That would have been the case if we don’t get it done this time.”

Sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o finished the game with nine tackles. Senior cornerback Darrin Walls and junior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore each had seven.

The defense helped with scoring points, as well. In the third quarter, Walls intercepted Army quarterback Trent Steelman and ran it back for a 42-yard touchdown return. Senior linebacker Brian Smith intercepted a Steelman pass later in the third quarter and handed it to senior cornerback Gary Gray, who gained 14 yards on a play that led to a 39-yard field goal from senior kicker David Ruffer.

“Things seem to be clicking,” Rees said. “The defense is playing unbelievable. Words can’t really sum up how they’re playing.”

Steelman finished 2-of-7 with 39 yards passing.

Ruffer also scored Notre Dame’s first points of the game with a 47-yard kick at the beginning of the second quarter.

Rees bounced back from his early interception to pass for 214 yards and a touchdown, going 13-for-20 on the day.

“As a quarterback you can’t hang your head,” he said. “You have to get back out there and keep playing, because everyone’s relying on you.”

Sophomore tight end Tyler Eifert led the team with 78 receiving yards, including two big plays from Rees in the second quarter. Eifert caught a 35-yard pass on the one-yard line, which set up senior Robert Hughes to score Yankee Stadium’s first touchdown with a one-yard run. Minutes later, he grabbed a 31-yard pass in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

“It’s something we work on during practice,” Rees said. “Tyler’s a really athletic guy, and certain match-ups favor size and athleticism, and he did a great job with that.”

Sophomore tailback Cierre Wood led the Irish rushing effort with 88 yards on 14 carries. Hughes followed with 40 yards on nine carries.

The contest was the first college football game to be held in the new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009. It was also the 50th meeting between Army and Notre Dame, who played regularly in the old Yankee Stadium in the first half of the 20th century. Notre Dame now leads the series 38-8-4.

The Irish wore green jerseys to mark the occasion.

Kelly interrupted his usual routine to give the players a chance to explore the stadium Friday.

“Generally, on Friday, my standard routine is to have a pretty brisk walk through, go through a lot of things. We didn’t do any of that,” Kelly said. “We just stood around with our eyes wide open and took pictures and Marvelled marveled at the stadium and walked around here.”

Players relished the experience, junior center Braxton Cave said.

“It was awesome. Great environment. People dream of going to Yankee Stadium. To get to come here and play a football game is almost unheard of,” Cave said. “Yesterday, getting to come out here and taking pictures, and walking around and looking at the greats who played here, then getting to come out and wear the green jerseys and getting a win. It can’t get any better than that.”

Prior to the game, players also watched videos on the history of the Army-Notre Dame series.

“Tradition for Notre Dame is the biggest thing that made me want to come here,” Rees said. “To be a part of it and continue it is a blessing.”