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Irish top No. 22 Arizona State 37-34

Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, October 6, 2013

Notre Dame’s defense sealed the game when its offense could not as the Irish slipped by No. 22 Arizona State 37-34 on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

With 1:16 left in the fourth quarter and with his team down three points, Sun Devils redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly dropped back into the end zone and threw a pass over the middle. Irish graduate student linebacker Dan Fox intercepted the pass and ran it back 14 yards to give the Irish (4-2) a 37-27 lead.

“I think we all remember what we saw last year defensively salting away games and we feel like our defense is continually getting better,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We are not there yet.”

The previous possession, the Notre Dame offense had the ball with a chance to ice the game. Following junior safety Matthias Farley’s fourth-down interception, the Irish had the ball at midfield with just 1:44 left in the game.

But the Irish could not gain a first down on the drive and punted the ball back to the Sun Devils. That’s when Fox clinched the game with his pick. He finished the game with seven tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Following Fox’s fumble recovery with 4:12 left in the third quarter, senior quarterback Tommy Rees and the Irish did not take long to capitalize on the turnover. On second-and-10 from the 21-yard line, Rees scrambled to his left and lofted a ball into the end zone for junior tight end Troy Niklas. Niklas leaped above Sun Devil senior safety Alden Darby and pulled down the ball to put Notre Dame ahead 24-13.

After Arizona State scored with 1:30 left in the second quarter to go up 13-7, Notre Dame scored 17 unanswered points to take an 11-point advantage.

The Sun Devils ended that streak when Rees threw an interception to Arizona State graduate student cornerback Osahon Irabor that was returned for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 24-20. The 37-yard return was Irabor’s first touchdown of his career.

After a 33-yard field goal by junior kicker Kyle Brindza extended the Irish lead to 27-20, Arizona State took over at its own 25-yard line.

Three plays into the drive, Arizona State faced a third-and-20 from its own 38-yard line. Taylor Kelly stepped up to his right and found redshirt receiver Kevin Ozjer for a 31-yard gain. The completion was one of three plays of 20 yards or longer on the drive for the Sun Devils.

Later on the drive, Kelly connected with redshirt junior receiver De’Marieya Nelson down the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown to knot the game at 27 with 8:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.

At the end of the first half, Rees threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver TJ Jones. The score came with just 10 seconds left in the half and gave Notre Dame the lead again.

Jones finished the game with eight catches for 135 yards and one touchdown.

Earlier, Rees found junior tight end Ben Koyack on a 19-yard touchdown reception with 3:35 left in the second quarter to give Notre Dame its first lead of the game, 7-6. Koyack found space in the middle of the field and dove into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

“As it relates to Ben Koyack, confidence is the big thing here,” Brian Kelly said. “He’s gaining confidence week‑in and week‑out.”

Arizona State answered Notre Dame quickly with a seven-play, 78-yard march in less than two minutes. Taylor Kelly connected with redshirt sophomore receiver Jaelen Strong for a 36-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-four. Strong was matched up with senior safety Austin Collinsworth and ran past him for the scoring snag and a 13-7 lead.

Notre Dame covered 59 yards on 13 plays on its opening drive but came away without points when Brindza missed a 38-yard field goal. The Irish had the ball for 8:08 and converted once on third down and once on fourth down.

The drive was the longest march of the season for Notre Dame, time-wise. It tied for the longest of the year, play-wise. The Irish also notched a 13-play drive against Purdue.

Brindza made a career-long 53-yard field goal on Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half to extend the Irish lead to 17-13. Brindza’s field goal also tied for the longest in Notre Dame’s history.

Irish senior receiver Daniel Smith was carted off the field in the first quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury. Brian Kelly said Smith fractured his ankle and could be out for the rest of the season.

Junior linebacker Jarrett Grace was also carted off midway through the second quarter. Brian Kelly said Grace will probably miss the rest of the year with a fractured leg. Brian Kelly said Grace would stay overnight in Dallas for evaluation.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]