Irish comeback falls short against Louisville, 31-28
Zach Klonsinski | Sunday, November 23, 2014
The Irish (7-4) had a late chance to send the game to overtime, but senior kicker Kyle Brindza’s 32-yard field goal slid wide of the right upright, handing Notre Dame its first loss on Senior Day in Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure.
With the Irish on the Louisville 10-yard line and 1:42 remaining, a rush by sophomore running back Tarean Folston moved Notre Dame to the nine, before a designed quarterback draw was blown up by the Louisville defense and lost six yards.
“We ran a quarterback draw, and we got our butts kicked up front,” Kelly said.
A pass by senior quarterback Everett Golson sailed over the head of junior receiver C.J. Prosise on third down from the 15-yard line, setting up Brindza’s attempt. Kelly said after the game that the hold by sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire was not “executed at the level it needed to be.”
Golson said Zaire held himself responsible for the miss.
“Yeah, I talked to him vaguely about it,” Golson said. “I think he took accountability for it.”
Notre Dame’s penultimate drive ended on the bounce that gave Irish fans hope for a win after one slipped away last week against Northwestern. Down two scores and facing a third-and-13 from the Louisville 28-yard line, Golson broke a couple tackles in the pocket before rolling right and heaving the ball towards the end zone. Intended for 6-foot-4.5 sophomore receiver Corey Robinson, the ball bounced off a Cardinal defender into the air, falling into the waiting hands of sophomore receiver Will Fuller for the Irish touchdown.
“[Golson] keeping the play alive, anything can happen,” Fuller said. “I saw Corey covered pretty well, so I was just waiting to see if there was any batted ball, and luckily, it was right there.”
Golson worked similar magic on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt. He rolled right originally before backing out and following a couple blockers all the way back across the field to convert the try and move the Irish within a field goal with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
The senior finished the game 16-for-24 with 236 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Fuller led the team with five receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown.
Near the end of the game, Cardinals freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon was sacked for a 14-yard loss by freshman linebacker Greer Martini on third-and-goal. Louisville redshirt junior kicker John Wallace pushed the 37-yard field goal attempt wide right, but the Irish were unable to capitalize.
“We had a chance with the ball in our own hands with a minute to go and a chance to win, and we’ve got to cash that in and score,” Kelly said. “That’s how I see it.”
The disappointing end followed the Irish battling back into the game after a slow first half offensively. The Cardinals jumped out to an early lead as Bonnafon ran for two early touchdowns en route to building a 17-6 halftime lead.
After forcing a Louisville three-and-out to start the second half, the Irish marched 51 yards in three plays. Folston reversed field and escaped around the left edge for a six-yard touchdown run that cut the Louisville lead to 17-13 just more than two minutes into the third quarter.
“We knew what we had to do coming into the game, coming into halftime,” Folston said. “The second half was just continue to play hard and execute better.”
“We definitely got back to running the ball a little bit more,” Golson said. “I think that opened up a couple things for us.”
After another Louisville three-and-out, Irish sophomore running back Greg Bryant returned the punt 61 yards to the Louisville three-yard line. Golson found Robinson on third-and-goal from the seven-yard line to give Notre Dame the 20-17 lead.
“I knew he was going to make something happen,” Folston said of Bryant’s return. “I told him, ‘Just keep your head in it, and you’re going to make something happen,’ and that’s what happened.”
The Cardinals regained control after an eight-play, 81-yard drive capped by Bonnafon’s 21-yard touchdown toss to senior receiver DeVante Parker to seize control once again, 24-20. Sophomore running back Brandon Radcliff’s 15-yard score on the next drive extended Louisville’s lead to 31-20. Radcliff’s 136 yards on the ground led the Cardinals, who gained 229 yards on 50 rush attempts. Folston paced the Irish with 134 rushing yards, and senior running back Cam McDaniel added 20 more.
The Irish have played many underclassmen this year, and this year’s seniors said they tried to impress a positive message upon the younger players after the game.
“I just walked around to every one of the players and told them that I loved them and thanked them,” graduate student safety and captain Austin Collinsworth said. “I told them beforehand, ‘You leave your soul on that field, and there’s no regrets.’ And they did, and I love them for it.”
The Irish have to regroup to travel west next week for the regular-season finale against USC in Los Angeles. The seniors also had a message ready for their team about that.
“We’re a close team and we talked — Cam McDaniel started talking to the team after the game, and we’ve just got to come together and finish strong,” senior offensive lineman and captain Nick Martin said. “But there’s no doubt about the talent we have on this team, and we’ve just got to make plays in those situations.”