Eagles soar above Irish, 31-29
By KERRY SMITH
Assistant Sports Editor
Last year, Notre Dame made a key defensive stand in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to hold Boston College at bay for the 31-26 Irish win, but Saturday, it was the Eagles' turn to make a stand of their own.
The Irish came close, but it couldn't put enough points on the board in the fourth quarter for the win. Notre Dame raced against the clock, failing to come from behind and losing 31-29 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Eagle quarterback Tim Hasselbeck threw for three touchdowns and rushed for a fourth, helping the Eagles to their eighth win and snapping a four-year losing streak to the Irish.
"I give Boston College credit. I thought their quarterback played really well," said Irish head coach Bob Davie. "He can run. He gave us some different looks and he made a few plays throwing the football."
With the loss, the Irish fell to 5-6 on the season, erasing any chance for a bowl game appearance and leaving the program struggling to end the season at the .500 mark.
The Irish secondary struggled to contain Hasselbeck, who threw for 272 yards and rushed for another 60, in one of his best performances of the season.
"It's hard to win when you give up 442 yards and 31 points," said Davie. "We're struggling a little bit on defense. I think the secondary is playing OK, but overall on defense, we're struggling."
Quarterback Jarious Jackson led an explosive Irish squad to two touchdowns in the opening eight minutes of the first quarter, giving the Irish a quick 14-point advantage.
Jackson came out throwing in Notre Dame's opening offensive play, connecting with wide receiver Raki Nelson for a 45-yard reception, spearheading a 94-yard drive to the end zone. Five plays later, Jackson pitched the ball to Tony Fisher at the 5-yard line on the option and the tailback ran it into the end zone to put the Irish on the board.
Forcing the Eagles to punt on their next possession, the Irish quickly took over on offense again and charged down the field to up their lead to 14, as tailback Julius Jones ran the ball 11 yards for the score.
But the Irish offense turned cold as quickly as it had heated up.
Hasselback connected on a 13-yard pass to tight end Bryan Arndt, who ran 14 yards to pay dirt on the Eagles' final drive of the first quarter, bringing B.C. to within seven.
Hasselbeck struck again six minutes into the second quarter, when his pass to wide receiver Jamal Burke inside the Notre Dame 5-yard line resulted in a B.C. touchdown, tying the game at 14.
B.C. took the lead with 1:16 remaining in the half when Hasselback moved the Eagles to within four yards of the Notre Dame goal line, setting up an easy field goal for kicker John Matich.
The Irish took possession of the ball on their own 34-yard line and managed to tie the game at 17 on a 44-yard field goal attempt by Jim Sanson as time ran out.
A pair of B.C. touchdowns in the second half vaulted the Eagles to a 31-17 lead, leaving the Irish to play catch-up late in the fourth.
Hasselback led a 93-yard scoring drive and rushed the ball past the Irish goal line with five minutes left in the third before connecting on a 34-yard touchdown pass three minutes into the fourth quarter putting the Irish in a 14-point hole.
The Irish, who have produced three fourth-quarter comebacks this season, rallied with six minutes remaining in the game, when Jackson hit Fisher in the end zone with a nine-yard pass on fourth-and-6 to bring the score to 31-23.
But Sanson's extra-point attempt was tipped, leaving the Irish down by eight.
"At the time it was blocked, we said, `That's going to come back to haunt us,'" Davie said.
They were right.
Jones made a key 67-yard punt return for a touchdown with 3:28 left to bring the Irish within two at 31-29. Attempting a two-point conversion for the tie, Jackson threw to flanker Joey Getherall, but the ball went through the receivers hands for the incompletion.
"I tried to get Joey in the back of the end zone, but I think we were on two different pages," said Jackson. "I thought that he was going to sit in the hole but he kept running. The ball was there, but he wasn't able to come down with it."
As the final minutes ticked off the clock, the Irish had one last chance to score, but a B.C. interception by free safety Pedro Cirino with just over two minutes to play sealed Notre Dame's fate as the Eagles ran down the clock for the win.
"It was a disappointing loss, but I'm proud of the way the players competed," said Davie. "When you're down by 14 points, it's hard to rally and come back to win the game ... All you ask is that guys give that kind of effort and play 60 minutes and I think we did that, especially the seniors."
Saturday's game marked the last home game for the senior class. Despite the loss, Jackson closed out his career at Notre Dame Stadium by putting his name in the Irish record books. Jackson threw for 283 passing yards, brining his season total to 2,586 yards, passing Joe Theismann's 1970 record of 2,429 yards. Jackson also gained another 23 yards on rushing, bring his total yards on offense to 3,026, breaking Theismann's record of 2,813.
All Sports Stories for Monday, November 22, 1999