Under the Lights, One For The Ages, Michigan and Notre Dame
It didn’t have to be a barnburner to go down in the books. The first-ever night game in the Big House, in front of better than 110,000 fans, would have become part of Big Ten lore regardless of the winner, the box score, or the events of the fourth quarter. However, what transpired ensured that the commemorative DVDs will sell themselves.
The first quarter was all Notre Dame. Michigan gained a total of 27 yards on two three-and-outs, ending their last drive with an interception as the quarter expired. Notre Dame had 51 yards rushing, 94 yards passing, and led 14-0 as Cierre Wood ran roughshod over a hapless Michigan defense. The Denard Robinson of 2010 was nowhere to be seen, rushing for just 17 yards, 13 of them on one play.
Initially, Michigan’s first drive of the second quarter showed promise as Robinson scrambled for 18 yards and the Wolverines’ second first down of the game. But after two incompletions and a gain of only three yards, Notre Dame got the ball back. At first it looked like more of the same: 21 yards to Michael Floyd for a first down. But after a short rush and an incomplete pass, Tommy Rees threw his first interception of the game at his own 45 yard line. Two plays later Robinson connected with Junior Hemingway, who made an incredible effort to stretch out and knock the pylon over with the football. The call on the field was a touchdown and after review it was upheld.
Notre Dame’s next drive went for nine plays and 58 yards in just under five minutes. It also went for three penalties on the Irish (as well as one on Michigan), including a 15-yard call for unnecessary roughness. They managed three first downs and were deep in Michigan territory when Rees threw his second interception of the night. Fortunately for Notre Dame, the Wolverines went three-and-out and gave the ball back with good field position. After three first downs, Rees threw three straight incompletions and David Ruffer kicked a 38-yard field goal to put the Irish up 17-7. Michigan went three-and-out to end the half.
Notre Dame received the kickoff, and the teams traded punts to start the second half. The Irish were in Michigan territory when Cierre Wood fumbled and the Wolverines recovered. Michigan converted on third down, but on the ensuing first down Robinson threw his second pick of the game. Seven plays later, Rees hit TJ Jones for a 15-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-17 Notre Dame.
If you saw the play from Super Bowl XLII where Eli Manning completed a pass as he was being dragged down by the Patriots defense- and everyone has seen that play, since it resulted in the David Tyree helmet-catch- you probably thought of it on the Wolverines’ first play from scrimmage. With a Notre Dame defender hanging from the back of his leg, Robinson heaved the ball downfield where Junior Hemingway snagged it around the Michigan 30 and took off. He was pushed out of bounds at the Irish 5 yard line and the quarter ended two plays later.
If you thought the pass to Hemingway was a weird play, you haven’t seen anything yet. The fourth quarter started with Michigan in 3rd-and-goal from the Notre Dame 1. Robinson handed the ball off and the defense forced a fumble. The ball squirted free and bounced in Robinson’s direction; he scooped it up and darted in, untouched, for the touchdown.
Lady Luck appears to approve of night games at the Big House. After a Notre Dame three-and-out, a terrible punt gave the Wolverines the ball at the Irish 40. A sack for a loss of five yards was quickly negated by two first downs, and on 2nd and 7 from the Irish 14, Jeremy Gallon caught a pass for a touchdown. 24-21 Notre Dame.
At this point, I could really just start copying and pasting earlier paragraphs. Driving in Michigan territory, Notre Dame turned the ball over on a fumble by quarterback Rees, that was promptly recovered by the Wolverines. But just as Michigan looked like they could punch it in again, Robinson threw an interception. (See what I mean about copy and paste?) Irish went three-and-out, and a much better punt was nonetheless returned 21 yards to the Michigan 42. Five plays later, on first down from the Notre Dame 21, Robinson found Vincent Smith in the end zone. Michigan takes their first lead of the game to make it 28-24 with 1:12 remaining after the kickoff.
Notre Dame got a good return on the kickoff, bringing it out to their own 39. A huge pass-interference call on Michigan brought them to the Wolverines’ 46. For some reason the Irish immediately went to the air, electing not to run the ball and take more time off the clock. (Given their earlier fumbles, I suppose this was understandable). Rees completed passes of 12 and five yards, threw an incompletion, and on 3rd-and-five hit Theo Riddick for a 29-yard touchdown. 31-28, Irish win… right?
To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!” Still :30 on the clock. First-and-10, incomplete pass. 23 seconds left. HUGE catch-and-run by a wide-open Gallon at midfield. He’s finally pushed out of bounds at the Notre Dame 16. (Does anyone else hear Chris Berman doing the “tiiiiiick, tick tiiiiiick” thing as they read this?) 8 seconds left, 1st down. Robinson drops back, and heaves the ball toward a double-covered Roy Roundtree, who hauls it in for the score. 35-31 Wolverines. With :02 remaining, the Notre Dame kick returned is taken down for a loss and another crazy ending in this rivalry is in the books. It’s Notre Dame-Michigan… did you really expect anything less?