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Rees comes off bench in win

Joseph Monardo | Monday, September 10, 2012

The differences were easily noticeable: The calendar has rolled over, the torrential weather was replaced by fall sunshine, the starting quarterback had a new name and the Irish managed to turn last year’s season-opening defeat into a 20-17 victory.

But despite the change of scenery, junior quarterback Tommy Rees once again played a significant role in Notre Dame’s home opener – this year by leading the Irish on a game-winning drive in relief of sophomore quarterback Everett Golson.

Rees replaced former Irish starter Dayne Crist after halftime of last season’s 23-20 season opener against South Florida, and entered Saturday’s victory with 2:12 remaining. After he was greeted by a chorus of boos from the home crowd, Rees led the Irish on a 55-yard drive that culminated in sophomore Kyle Brindza’s 27-yard game-winning field goal. In his first game back after a one-game suspension stemming from a May arrest, Rees went 3-for-8 for 35 yards.

“I was a bit surprised [to hear the boos],” Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “But I think Tommy knew it didn’t really matter because he knew what was most important is that the guys out there on the field and the guys on the sideline trusted him and had confidence in his ability to make plays.”

Golson completed 21 of 31 passes in the game for 289 yards and one touchdown and added one touchdown on the ground. However, in Golson’s final drive at the helm of the Irish offense, the quarterback’s fumble allowed Purdue to gain possession at Notre Dame’s 15-yard line, setting up Purdue’s tying score. The hand injury Golson suffered on the sack factored into the decision to change quarterbacks, Irish coach Brian Kelly said.

“[Golson] had trouble gripping the ball. I think he could have probably still have gone … We also made the decision with the flow of the game that Tommy could come in there and manage our two minute [drill] and he did a great job,” said Kelly, who told reporters Sunday he had made the decision to insert Rees before Golson’s injury.

Although Golson retains the starting role – or perhaps because of it – he was not happy to watch Notre Dame’s final drive from the sideline, Kelly said. Neither quarterback was made available to the media after the game.

“Here is what I want. I want a guy that’s upset he wasn’t in the game, and [Golson] was upset, but he is not selfish,” the third-year coach said. “He understands that we support whoever goes in the game. Just like Tommy and [sophomore quarterback] Andrew [Hendrix] supported Everett, it’s his turn now to support his teammates.”

Rees proved his worth in relief when he – after motioning for a timeout that Notre Dame did not have – received the snap on third and six and lofted a sideline ball to Irish senior receiver John Goodman for a 10-yard gain. On the next series, Rees completed a 21-yard pass to senior receiver Robby Toma on third and 10.

“That’s what I knew about [Rees] and his makeup, his moxie, his mental toughness … He is a gamer,” Kelly said. “He’ll do anything. Those guys in that locker room will go to the wall for him.

“Tommy’s a guy, if you look at it in baseball terms, he’s a closer. He can close for you.”

Even though Kelly has shown he has the willingness to call on the closer, the coach said he maintains confidence in Golson’s ability to lead the team.

“Again, [Golson] has this capability, he can throw the ball, keeps his eyes downfield. We have to work on some things,” he said.

“We are going to have some growing pains. But we won today. He was our starter. He’s 2-0 … So that’s a good start for him.”

So while Golson found himself watching Tommy Rees line up under center at the end of Saturday’s game, he heads into the next week in a decidedly better position than Dayne Crist found himself a year ago. He is, after all, still the starter on an Irish team 2-0 for the first time since 2008 thanks, in part, to Rees.

Contact Joseph Monardo at [email protected]