Key moments from Notre Dame’s 21-14 win at Duke
Emily DeFazio | Sunday, October 1, 2023
Notre Dame pulled off a stunner at Duke in a top-20 clash, winning 21-14. Here are five key moments from Saturday night’s emotional whirlwind of a victory.
First drives of the game put Irish ahead
In what appeared to be a dismal start in Durham for the Irish, their opening drive stalled just past midfield. The Blue Devil defense put a stop to much of junior running back Audric Estimé’s effectiveness, limiting him to a loss of one yard on two carries. However, Notre Dame’s momentum took a major upswing on a fourth and 4 at the Duke 47. Leading a fake punt, freshman running back Jeremiyah Love rushed around the right side for 34 yards. With a first down on the Duke 13-yard line, the Irish soon capitalized as Estimé scored from six yards out.
Duke’s first drive saw great coverage from the Irish defense, which certainly entered with a chip on its shoulder after poor execution late in last week’s Ohio State loss. Senior linebacker Marist Liufau and graduate student lineman Howard Cross III made a few key plays, forcing Duke to attempt a 38-yard field goal. The try sailed wide right, leaving the Irish with a 7-0 lead after the game’s opening drives.
Penalties pummel Irish throughout the game
The officials dished out penalties to the Irish left and right throughout the night. Over the course of the game, Notre Dame received 12 penalty calls, including five false starts and three offsides. Often, these calls disrupted key advances, making hopes of the eventual victory dim as play continued. On its second drive, Notre Dame set the stage for a field goal attempt from graduate student Spencer Shrader. However, a false start set the Irish back five yards, taking them out of range and forcing a punt instead. Notre Dame would come to need those three extra points later in the game.
At the end of the first quarter, senior safety Xavier Watts secured an interception inside Duke’s 15. But Notre Dame’s ensuing momentum took a dive with a false start call on freshman receiver Rico Flores Jr. The resulting third and 11 turned into a sack, forcing the Irish to kick a field goal after a promising setup. Defensive penalties also shook up some of the team’s progress. On Duke’s first drive, an offsides shortened its third-down distance from 10 to five yards, leading to a conversion. However, the night’s most significant defensive penalty occurred on Duke’s go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
Duke rides big plays, targeting foul into the lead
Early in the fourth quarter, Duke took its first lead of the night at 14-13. The surge began with a 26-yard, third-down completion to Jordan Moore. And matters only went downhill from there. A missed tackle allowed Leonard to rush for 33 yards until stopped by Watts, putting Duke at the precipice of the red zone. On the following play, a targeting call booted senior defensive lineman Jordan Botelho out of the game, moving the Blue Devils into a goal-to-go scenario. After a rush by Jordan Waters put Duke at the one-yard line, a situation the Irish have become all too familiar with, Cross made a stout tackle to force a two-yard loss. However, on third down, Notre Dame failed to motion across the formation with Moore, who caught the game-tying touchdown alone.
That 4th & 16.
With 2:35 left in the game and the Irish down by one, the pressure was on.
But, as Estimé said, that’s when Sam Hartman is at his best.
After marching down the field with chunk passes to junior tight end Mitchell Evans and Flores Jr. of 19 and 24 yards, a pass interference call on sophomore receiver Tobias Merriweather forced Notre Dame into a first and 25. The Irish soon found themselves at fourth and 16 with the game on the line. As Hartman looked for an open receiver, no options presented themselves, so Hartman took off to the right.
And just kept running.
He ultimately gained 17 yards, notching the first down and reviving hopes of a win among the deafening visiting Irish crowd. On the very next play, a 30-yard touchdown rush from Estimé recaptured the lead for the Irish. But upon celebration, Hartman immediately called for a two-point conversion to put the Irish ahead by a full touchdown. Sure enough, the Irish made good on the attempt with a pass to Flores Jr.
Cross forces the final fumble
When Duke took the field with 31 seconds to go, all Irish fans could do was hold their breath and pray the Blue Devils wouldn’t pull off a miracle. As it turned out, they never came close. On the second play of the drive, Leonard was sacked by Cross, forcing a fumble. After a few tense moments, Liufau emerged with it, changing possession with 18 seconds left. With that final nail in the coffin, the Irish cemented their dramatic win.