1935 Irish spoil season for famed Buckeyes
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Four years after Knute Rockne's death and more than a decade after the Four Horsemen galloped down the gridiron, former Horseman and head coach Elmer Layden led his 5-0 Irish squad into Buckeye Stadium to take on top-ranked Ohio State.
They left with one of the most dramatic victories in Notre Dame history.
The Buckeyes rode on an offense that featured nearly 300 different plays from seven formations into the showdown with the Irish. Many sportswriters had already penciled in Ohio State as their choice for the 1935 national champion and gave Notre Dame little chance of winning on the road.
The first half seemed to fulfill to the expectations.
"I had never seen a Notre Dame offense so completely stopped," writer Francis Wallace said. "When the Irish passed, the ball was intercepted and converted into a touchdown. It was difficult to get a running play started against the hard-charging Ohio State line. It was even hard to get a punt away."
Ohio State looked exactly like a top-ranked undefeated squad in the first half as they completely dominated Notre Dame. The scoring began early in the first quarter for the Buckeyes.
Frank Antenucci stepped in front of Irish halfback Mike Layden's pass and then lateralled the ball to Arthur Boucher. Boucher returned the ball 70 yards for an early first-quarter touchdown and a 7-0 Buckeye lead.
An Irish turnover at the close of the first quarter led to another Buckeye touchdown. Stanley Pincura intercepted a pass near midfield and sparked the Ohio State scoring drive. The Buckeyes utilized a lateral attack to move to the Irish 15 in six plays. Joe Williams then broke through the Irish line and stretched the Buckeye lead to 13. The extra point was no good and Ohio State led 13-0 heading into halftime.
There was no "Win One For The Gipper" talk at halftime or any great strategy changes. Layden merely encouraged his team to "win this half for themselves." Layden's halftime speech may not go down with any of Rockne's for its poetry or elegance, but it did its job as a different Irish squad emerged from the locker room.
The third quarter did not see Notre Dame put a touchdown on the board, but the Irish offense moved the ball better and the defense held the Buckeye attack in check. The second half also saw Irish halfback Andy Pilney take over the game.
After Notre Dame pinned Ohio State deep within its own territory, the Buckeyes were forced to punt. The punt was short, however, and Pilney returned the kick to the Buckeye 12-yard line as time ran out in the third quarter.
As the final quarter opened, the Irish finally got on the board. Pilney hit Frank Gaul for an 11-yard gain to the Buckeye 1-yard line. Steve Miller plunged across the goal line on the next play for the touchdown.
The Irish missed the extra point, however, and still trailed the Buckeyes 13-6.
The Irish still trailed by seven when the got the ball at their own 20-yard line with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Pilney quickly led the Irish into Buckeye territory with his slashing running style and into striking distance of the Ohio State end zone.
From the 33-yard line, Pilney dropped back to pass. He found Layden open in the end zone for a touchdown as the Buckeye lead fell to just one. The Irish once again missed the extra point, and it seemed as though the Buckeyes would escape with a 13-12 lead.
With 81,000 fans screaming, Layden called for an onside kick. Ohio State, however, recovered and it appeared that victory was in had. With less than a minute left, the Buckeyes only had to refrain from fumbling to win the game.
With odds heavily stacked in the Buckeyes' favor, Pilney struck again. On first down, he hit Buckeye tailback Dick Beltz and forced him to cough up the football. Henry Pojman recovered for the Irish and the stage was set for a dramatic conclusion.
Pilney broke free for 30 yards on first down and got Notre Dame down to the OSU 19-yard line before he was forced out of bounds. That 30-yard scamper would be Pilney's last play of the day, however, as he tore cartilage in his knee and had to be carried from the field.
With Pilney on the sidelines, Irish All-American Bill Shakespeare took over passing duties for the Irish.
Shakespeare's first pass was nearly a tragedy. Beltz stepped in front of the pass and nearly made up for his earlier fumble by killing the Irish drive with an interception. Beltz, however, could not hang on and the ball fell to the turf.
On second down, Shakespeare dropped back to pass again. Shakespeare spotted Wayne Miller open in the end zone for the winning touchdown. The ensuing extra-point was again missed but victory was already in hand, 18-12.
The Irish followed their emotional victory over the Buckeyes with a 14-7 loss to the Wildcats of Northwestern the following Saturday, thus ending any hope for a national title.
When sportswriters voted on the best game of the first 50 years of the 20th century, however, the 1935 battle between the Irish and the Buckeyes was the overwhelming winner.
All Sports Stories for Friday, September 24, 1999