Earl blocks Adams' field goal attempt to force overtime
By TIM CASEY
Assistant Sports Editor
As a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dave Adams spent many Saturday afternoons rooting for the University of Miami football team. So when "Air Force 20, Notre Dame 17" scrolled across the bottom of the television screen in the early evening hours of Oct. 19, 1996, the 17-year old high school senior was elated.
"I despised Notre Dame," Adams said. "Growing up a Hurricanes fan, you always wanted Notre Dame to lose."
On Saturday, Adams, now Air Force's place kicker, had a chance to shatter the Irish's Bowl Championship Series chances and provide the Falcons with another South Bend afternoon to cherish. With three seconds remaining in regulation and the game tied at 28, the senior lined up for a 28-yard field goal in the south end zone. Four years earlier, Dallas Thompson (Air Force's current punter) nailed a 27-yarder in overtime for the win.
"The kick was from the same exact spot and from the same exact end zone," Adams said.
The result was the exact opposite. Glenn Earl, who was supposed to watch for a fake, instead leapt high in the air and blocked Adams' attempt. And after Joey Getherall's 9-yard touchdown run in overtime, an unanticipated thriller ended in a 34-31 Irish victory. Notre Dame stands at 6-2 on the season with three games remaining and moved up to No. 15 in the Associated Press poll and No. 16 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' poll.
Excitement? Relief? Disbelief?
All three emotions (and several more) came to the minds of Irish players and coaches following the 25th meeting between the two teams. Ahead 28-10 with less than 12 minutes left, Notre Dame allowed two touchdowns, a field goal and the legion of Irish fans to again question coach Bob Davie.
Did the defense "collapse," Coach?
"I don't know if that's a collapse," Davie said. "I think that's a pretty good offensive football team."
It was the same unit that gained 213 yards in the first three quarters, including just 37 during the third. Air Force's option running game, ranked fourth in the nation entering Saturday, managed 206 yards, 70 yards below their average.
But three days before Halloween, the unlikely combination of quarterback Mike Thiessen and 6-foot-5 receiver Ryan Fleming tricked the Irish defense and spooked the 80,232 in attendance with a memorable fourth quarter performance.
Forget the B-52 Bombers flying over the Stadium on Saturday. The Air Force tandem may have put on the best aerial show seen this season.
A trio of plays in the final 15 minutes sparked the Falcons. On the first drive of the quarter, Fleming's 10-yard reception on 3rd and 11 allowed his team not to have to punt on fourth down.
Two plays later, Air Force narrowed the lead to 28-17. After scoring another touchdown on the next possession, Air Force got the ball back at its own 5-yard line. With 5-foot-9 Irish cornerback Shane Walton covering him, Fleming made a one-handed grab along the left sidelines for a 42-yard reception.
Adams' 34-yard field goal just over two minutes later tied the game.
Then on the final possession of regulation, Thiessen and Fleming hooked up once again on first down for a 46-yard gain.
For the game, Thiessen completed 17-of-29 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Fleming gained 163 yards on eight catches.
"The kid was unreal," Adams said of Fleming. "He played like an All-American."
Said Fleming: "To be honest, I really wasn't all out there. I was just going through the motions. I guess I just got in a zone."
Notre Dame's offense did not help a defense that allowed 258 fourth-quarter yards. In the fourth quarter, the Irish failed to gain a first down and had 15 total yards, including an illegal procedure penalty.
Although Julius Jones gained 118 yards and Matt LoVecchio threw for 171 yards, the offensive hero for the Irish was Getherall.
When his team needed a score, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior delivered. During a timeout, receivers coach Urban Meyer told Getherall, who already had two touchdowns, that they would run a "Z-reverse."
"Coach Meyer looked at me and said you're getting the ball," said Getherall, who had four catches for 116 yards and carried twice for 22 yards. "[Meyer said], you better be ready."
He was. And thanks to the speedy Getherall, Notre Dame's BCS hopes are still alive.
All Sports Stories for Monday, October 30, 2000