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Clemson game ends in victory and injury, again

By Bella Laufenberg and Peter Breen

First-year Macy Gunnell entered Notre Dame Stadium this weekend feeding off the crowd’s energy and looking forward to a fantastic game. She left the field in an ambulance. 

The three-loss University of Notre Dame football team upset the No. 4 Clemson Tigers Saturday night, with a final score of 35-14. This primetime matchup was reminiscent of the 2020 Clemson-Notre Dame game when only socially-distanced students were allowed to watch in person. 

Before Saturday’s competition even began, the campus was electric, Gunnell said. Everyone was expecting to rush the field if Notre Dame could pull off the win, hoping to experience this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon and not worrying about the consequences. 

Broken tibia ‘worth it’ for the win

“I’m definitely feeling the adrenaline of the game the entire day,” she said. “The whole game, I mean, it was perfect.”

Gunnell, a Saint Mary’s College nursing major, said the feeling in the stadium began to shift when the game was about three minutes away from finishing. This was when she and her friends began to move down section 35, the first-year student section behind the tuba marching band row, in preparation for what was to come. 

Before she reached the field, Gunnell said the crowd was overwhelmingly aggressive, pushing and shoving her into the ground. 

“People immediately started springing out from the stands, jumping onto the field, and as that happened, people just progressively started pushing more and more forward,” Gunnell explained. “Then next thing you know, there’s bodies on top of bodies, and I was unfortunately at the bottom of that pile.”

While she was trapped under the pile, Gunnell described the experience as “absolutely terrifying.”

“It was just a complete 180 switch from being excited to rush the field and the next thing you know, I’ve got 20 people on top of me,” she said. “It was scary, I was genuinely scared that I was going to get seriously hurt.”

Gunnell said, although she was grateful for making it out without more serious injuries, she did break her tibia during the commotion.  

“As soon as I was able to get out from under the pile, the realization of the pain of what just happened hit me. That’s when I knew that I needed to get someone’s attention and get myself out of there,” Gunnell recalled. 

She also expressed how thankful she was for the band members and friends that pulled her out and stayed with her for the 30-plus minutes it took for the medics to reach her. 

After being shuttled out of the stadium by EMTs and going to a nearby hospital in an ambulance, Gunnell said she was huddled in the emergency room waiting room for seven hours with around 10-12 other game day survivors, including some other students and older alumni. 

“Funny thing was, whenever I got to the ER, there were actually several students there in the waiting room with me from injuries from the game,” she said.

Gunnell said she spent the whole night in the waiting room, before leaving around 7 a.m. and deciding to try another hospital in the morning. Now, Gunnell said she has a cast, crutches and some good spirits. 

 “I don’t really think it’s any single person’s fault,” she said. “I think this is a good story. I’d say it’s worth it with the dub that we got.”

Trampled band stays in the stands

Junior trumpet player Megan Ebner watched the mayhem unfold from the stands.

“When you’re in the band, you represent the University,” Ebner said.

Band members had complied to band directors’ instructions not to rush the field during the 2020 Clemson upset and understood going into this year’s matchup against the Tigers, they would have to stay put in the event of a field rush.

“We all kind of knew it’s just a general rule that we can’t rush the field,” Ebner said. “[We] stayed in the stands, and it was crazy.”

As the fourth quarter wrapped up, Ebner and the rest of trumpets standing in the final row of the band’s stadium seating struggled to redirect rows of students streaming down the bleachers around the immobile pack of musicians.

“We told the people, ‘You have to go to the left on the right,’ and the ushers were trying their best, but the students really just wanted to get onto the field,” Ebner said. “We were telling them, ‘You can’t come through here. There’s no space. If you tumble down and hit a bass drum, we’re all going down [and] it’s going to hurt a lot, so you need to go around.’”

While students started pushing and piling up, the band could do nothing but attempt to maintain their footing.

“It’s not like the band was funneling onto the field. We just weren’t moving,” Ebner said. “It was definitely a bit scary with all the people and no one really being in control.”

Quarantined students rush to redemption

Roommates Andrew Koo and Eddie Walsh were excited to rush the field this time around, after receiving a phone call from the University’s COVID-19 response unit Monday morning of the week leading up to the Clemson game in 2020.

“I knew that I’d be shafted for the game. I was going to be screwed,” now-senior Koo said.

Koo’s roommate in Dillon Hall, Walsh, had been hauled off to The Foundry the day before following a positive COVID test.

“I had tested positive, and so obviously, that put me and Andrew in quarantine,” Walsh said. “Me for the next 10 days [and] Andrew for the next week — both out for the game.”

Koo was in denial, anticipating the game to be one of the biggest nights of his four years of college.

“I tried everything I could on the phone with the quarantine people,” Koo said. “I considered not even showing up to the Joyce Center to go.”

As Koo tried to rationalize the situation, he said he couldn’t help but feel hurt seeing the social media posts, knowing that he’d have to carry this missed opportunity in the back of his mind for the rest of his college career.

Walsh meanwhile, maintains that that night was the best day of a “pent-up” fall 2020 semester. 

“I’m standing on a balcony on Eddy Street screaming. Everyone in town is going wild,” he said.

Koo and Walsh were watching the game together in the student section this Saturday. With each Irish score, they grew more and more excited about a chance for field-rushing redemption.

“We were just looking at each other at each touchdown and then next, thinking, ‘Oh my God, we’re actually gonna be able to do this,’” Koo said.

Though the journey from high up in the stands was daunting, there was something freeing about throwing caution to the wind on the way to the field.

“At one point, my foot got caught under a bleacher and I was like, ‘Oh, this is it. I’m breaking an ankle,” Walsh said. “But luckily nothing bad happened. It seemed like everyone had a good time.”

Koo and Walsh never thought that after their sophomore year, they’d ever get a chance to rush the field again.

“Last night felt a lot sweeter, knowing the situation,” Koo said. “Especially since it was our senior year, and we were able to finally do that. It was a great feeling.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.