Irish make big plays and get big breaks as they earn their first win of the season
By NOAH AMSTADTER
With a little more than three minutes remaining in the third quarter Saturday afternoon, everything seemed destined to fall apart once again for the Irish football team.
With the Irish leading 10-7, Pittsburgh quarterback David Priestley completed a 20-yard pass to R.J. English to give the Panthers first-and-10 at the Irish 26-yard line.
The next play, Priestley hit English at midfield with nothing in front of him but the endzone. But then, with Pittsburgh just a yard away from taking a 13-10 lead, something happened.
The football slipped away from English's hands mid-stride and fell right into the hands of Irish defensive back Abram Elam at the 1-yard line.
"At that point they were going in there for the go-ahead touchdown," Irish head coach Bob Davie said. "The next thing you know, we're going the other way with the ball."
Three plays later, Irish quarterback Carlyle Holiday slipped through the Panthers' defense, broke two tackles and sprinted 67 yards into the endzone to give the Irish a 17-10 lead.
"They sort of stretched the offense out and I just sort of cut back. I thought I was down, but I just kept on going, rushing out of there," Holiday said. "It caught me by surprise."
Notre Dame added a fourth-quarter touchdown by Julius Jones, his second of the game, for a 24-7 victory, Notre Dame's first of the season.
"I told our team, `Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better,'" Davie said. "Let's face it, that's what this game is. Strange things can happen. Momentum's a funny thing."
For an Irish team coming into Saturday's game 0-3 for the first time in its storied history, the change in momentum was just what the doctor ordered.
"After the game, you don't need to say much," Davie said. "Those hugs and those smiles say about all that needs to be said. I'm not going to get too dramatic about it; we're a 1-3 football team. But it's a heck a lot better than being an 0-4 football team."
The positives began on Pittsburgh's first possession of the game. In each of Notre Dame's three losses, the opposing team scored on its opening drive. Saturday, Pittsburgh got only three plays of before Priestley's deep second-and-18 pass fell right into Elam's hands.
Elam's interception would be the first of five turnovers converted by the Irish offense on the afternoon. Elam's recovered fumble, along with interceptions by Shane Walton and Anthony Weaver and a recovered fumble by Courtney Watson provided the Irish with solid field position and kept a potentially potent Panther offense away from the end zone.
Weaver added three tackles for a loss and one of Notre Dame's three quarterback sacks.
"For us, it's about creating turnovers on defense," Davie said. "When you play two straight games without a turnover, I think the offense — they're not going to back away from the heat they've got ... But we deserve on defense a bunch of that heat because we didn't generate any turnovers. It was good to see that happen. Guys made plays."
On the offensive side of the ball, Holiday provided the Irish with a spark both with his arms and his legs while taking every snap in his second start. The sophomore rushed for a game-high 122 yards on 19 carries while completing 10 of 13 pass attempts for 70 yards.
"I felt pretty comfortable at the start" Holiday said. "As the game went on, I started to slow things down a little bit when I was out there. It sort of got me going."
While Holiday stressed the significance of the victory for the team and the Notre Dame community as a whole, the Irish quarterback felt the weight of getting his first career victory off his back.
"It's a big win," Holiday said. "It's my first win. I've just got to keep moving on from here. It took a lot off me as well as the team."
Davie simply saw the win as evidence that a team he has touted as the "most talented" in his five years as Notre Dame's coach has the ability to come out on top.
"I think it's pretty simple to see what kind of plan we have to have to win a football game," Davie said of his team's ability to make plays and not turn the ball over. "As you look back over the beginning of the season until right now obviously this is the first time that we've been able to follow the plan."
All Sports Stories for Monday, October 8, 2001