By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
The rains came a little after noon at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, and they didn’t stop — setting up perfect conditions for a game of keep-it-on-the-ground, smash-mouth football.
But in the end, the No. 7 Irish got it done through the air, defeating the No. 17 Cardinal, 20-13 in overtime.
And it was the Irish’s relief pitcher extraordinaire, junior quarterback Tommy Rees, coming through yet again for the Irish, as he came in for an injured Everett Golson and connected with T.J. Jones for what proved to be the winning TD pass.
And then the Irish defense did its part, stuffing two straight goal-line rushing attempts by Stanford to secure the win for Notre Dame (6-0).
“He made a great catch,” Rees said. “I saw a look where you could isolate him one on one outside, it wasn’t a great throw but T.J., made a nice play to catch the ball and gave us a go ahead touchdown.”
For Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, the game was a sign of his team’s continued development.
“Just a great college football game,” Kelly said. “I am so proud of my football team, the way they overcame adversity.
“We had not been in that position at all this year. I told them at halftime, I said, listen, what did you think, we were going to go the whole year and not trail and do that the whole year? You don’t do that in college football, at any level.”
Early on, both teams felt each other warily, keeping it conservative,
And that’s exactly how it played out in the first quarter – until Notre Dame sophomore DB Matthias Farley picked off a Josh Nunes pass and returned it to the Stanford 16, setting up a 29-yard Kyle Brindza field goal to get Notre Dame on the scoreboard first.
The Cardinal (6-0) drove into position for a possible game-tying field goal early in the second quarter, but the Irish’s Stephon Tuitt got a hand on the kick and it was no good.
The Cardinal finally cracked the scoreboard with a defensive TD midway through the second stanza: Stanford defensive end came in untouched from the blind side and Hit Irish QB Everett Golson in the end zone, causing him to fumble. Stanford’s … recovered the fumble for a TD.
The Irish’s offense finally shook off early cobwebs and put together a sustained drive, most of it coming on Golson’s legs. The drive stalled at the Stanford 10 and a high snap on an 18-yard field goal attempt left the Irish with nothing to show for their best drive of the first half.
The Notre Dame offense, after several ineffective drives, finally got in gear late in the third, using the running game to get to the Stanford 32. But the drive short-circuited at the Cardinal 17 when Golson fumbled.
The Irish defense was again asked to step up. And they did just that, getting the ball back for the offense.
This time, the Irish finally found the end zone, with Golson and senior tight end Tyler Eifert connecting on a 24-yard TD strike early in the fourth quarter to knot the score at 10..
Matching-set field goals later in the frame left the score tied at 13 with 20 seconds left.
The Cardinal took a knee, electing to take their chances in overtime, and then won the coin toss and elected to give the Irish the ball first.
Stanford coach David Shaw said the results came down to a couple of plays.
“We missed a couple plays,” Shaw said. “They are good. We missed a couple throws. We got our hands on a couple catches. We missed some tough blocks. You know, they are stout up front and we did a decent job of running and blocking most of the game. Bottom line is, we’ve got to execute.”
The Irish host BYU next week; Stanford returns to the West Coast to resume Pac-12 play against California.
IRISH ITEMS: Legendary former Irish TE Dave Casper was honored during the game by the National Football Foundation. Casper, who played from 1971-73, is one of the latest inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame. … The Irish wore pink accessories to their uniforms as part of their effort to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month … The ESPN College Game Day crew spent the day in South Bend. It was the first visit to Notre Dame Stadium for the program since Oct. 15, 2005, when the matchup that day featured No. 1 USC and No. 9 Notre Dame. The Irish have appeared on the show 20 times and hosted it eight times … Bennett Jackson’s first-quarter interception was the Irish’s fourth of the season – equaling their total for the entire 2011 season. … Shawn Hochuli, son of NFL referee Ed Hochuli, was the chief of the officiating crew.