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Zarazua: Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, the game that could have changed it all

I have the weirdest hobbies sometimes; one of them is looking at past events for sports teams. Particularly where simple plays become pivotal moments in a team’s future, years beyond the game’s end. A lot of them are reaches for sure, but it’s always interesting to think about what would have happened if things went another way for another team. The one that I always think about though, as a Notre Dame football fan, through all the numerous quarterbacks, heartbreaking losses and coaching changes, was that fateful night on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. This is when No. 5 ranked Notre Dame traveled to Tallahassee to face defending national champions No. 2 ranked Florida State.

I do not think people remember well-enough how talented the 2014 Fighting Irish were. On the defensive side of the ball the Irish had Isaac Rochell, Drue Tranquill, Jaylon Smith and, of course, captain Joe Schmidt. On the offensive side quarterback Everett Golson was having an amazing comeback season, with weapons like Corey Robinson and Will Fuller, all while being protected by Nick Martin, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.

Yes, that’s a lot of players, but that’s barely scratching the surface of this talented Irish squad. Everything was clicking for them going into the 7th game of the season including the demolishing of Michigan 31-0 and the game winning TD caught by Ben Koyack at home against Stanford. They were talented, clutch and, most importantly, a team. I truly felt that this team could beat anybody, and felt they were truly up for the challenge against Jameis Winston and Florida State, which we came to find out they were.

Showing remnants of the classic 1994 matchup, Notre Dame and Florida State were battling and dealing blows left and right. If one team gave a gut punch, the other gave one back. No matter what, it seemed that the game would come down to one final play… and it did.

With 7:39 left in the game, down 31-27, Notre Dame drove the whole length of the field with a chance to dethrone Florida State on the road. It came down to 17 seconds left, 4th and goal from the 2-yard line. The ball was snapped, Golson threw a pass to a wide open Corey Robinson and… touchdown; the Irish had the lead and most likely the game. I remember hugging my grandpa, an avid Notre Dame fan as well, and we were celebrating such an amazing win in an amazing game. Then, suddenly, my dad had to break the sad news to us: There was a flag.

My stomach literally dropped, “Pass interference, offense No. 7.” First off, Will Fuller never set the pick, it was sadly No. 20 C.J Prosise. I remembered trying my best to defend him, but of course, looking at it now, it was the most obvious pick I had ever seen, in a football game no less. Now, its 4th and 18, they did it earlier in the drive, they have to have the luck of the Irish on their side right? Nope, pressured, Golson had to let it fly early, with the ball seeming to have no clear target: game over, Irish lost.

While the outcome was gut wrenching, I have to admit that was one of my favorite games to ever watch. I saw all the future NFL talent on both teams, but it still sucks knowing that a simple screen cost Notre Dame a chance to beat the No. 2 team in the country. I was still optimistic about the season though, 6-1, playoff hopes were clearly still alive and they beat Navy in a nail biter the next week, but they’ll be fine. The Irish win next week against Arizona State and win out the rest of the season…right? Dead wrong.

The Irish completely collapsed, and seeing it every step of the way was heartbreaking and a little embarrassing to watch. They completely melted down against Arizona State. I saw it the most in Golson, who was once an amazing quarterback, who made plays left and right, now looking like a shadow of his former self in a span of two weeks. They continued to lose close games to Louisville and Northwestern at home, with the icing on the cake getting embarrassed by USC 49-14 to end the season. I remember vividly Brian Kelly screaming at his squad at halftime, delaying the band’s halftime show in the process.

Going from a No. 5 team with National Championship aspirations, to a 7-5 team playing the Music City Bowl, the Irish thankfully landed on somewhat of a good note. This time winning in a nail biter against Les Miles and LSU. However, against this team Golson was nowhere to be found. Rather, the Irish went with Malik Zaire, the lefty sophomore back up quarterback. Another sour note to end the season, Golson would eventually leave for Florida State, funny how life works, huh? Malik is the leader now, a promising young man, he’ll lead us to the promised land, right?

Nope, Malik, after a impressive debut against Texas, has a season ending injury against Virginia, leading the way for Deshone Kizer to take the lead. He played extremely well, leading the Irish to a 10-2 season, only to get demolished by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Now, there is the problem of who will start next season, Kizer or Zaire? Well, looking back on it now, did it really matter? I don’t have to go into the details of that dreaded 4-8 season, but of course we know that Kizer eventually left early for the NFL. And, Zaire left for Florida, paving the way for Brandon Wimbush, who had a decent career with the Irish as well, only to, again, leave on a sour note, leaving for UCF after he was benched numerous times. For who, do you ask: the all time winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history, Ian Book. Ian was amazing as we all know, but sadly, even he couldn’t get us over that final hump. After he left, Jack Coan took over, a decent year, only to choke again in the Fiesta Bowl after Brian Kelly left too. 

Now we are here, 2022. Marcus Freeman is our head coach and Tyler Buchner was supposed to lead the team, only to get hurt and have Drew Pyne take over…sounds like we’ve witnessed this one too many times, huh? With playoff hopes seemingly dead for this year, we again have to wait another year to finally win it all for the first time since 1988. Still though, it makes you wonder how different things could’ve been if that one simple play went our way.

What if the penalty was never called? Would Notre Dame win out? Would Golson be considered the greatest quarterback in Notre Dame history? Would we win again if Golson didn’t transfer? Would Brian Kelly still be here? Well, I definitely don’t know but it’s funny how the butterfly effect works though, isn’t it?

Contact Gabriel Zarazua at gzarazua@nd.edu.

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

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