The highly anticipated Top 10 clash between No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Notre Dame delivered an instant classic Saturday night in South Bend. Decided in the final moments when Ohio State’s DeaMonte Trayanum found the end zone with only three seconds remaining, the slugfest went to the Buckeyes 17-14. The gut-wrenching home loss for the Irish will be a tough one to overcome. Compounding the defeat, Notre Dame had only 10 men on the field for the critical last two plays, including the game-winning score.
Ohio State spoiled Marcus Freeman’s debut as the Irish head coach a year ago. Saturday night’s defeat is an even tougher pill to swallow for Freeman and his team. Adding to the bitterness of the loss is that the crucial game-deciding play occurred while the Irish defense was shorthanded.
“We were trying to get a fourth D-line man on the field, and I told him just stay off because we can’t afford a penalty,” Freeman explained following the defeat. “I didn’t have any time-outs, right? So, we couldn’t afford a penalty there. You know—yeah, it’s on us. We got to be better.”
Pivotal Plays Cost Notre Dame Late
With the Irish up 14-10, a dramatic turn of events saw the Buckeyes snatch victory from the Irish. Ohio State orchestrated a game-winning drive that covered 65 yards and spanned 15 plays. Ohio State utilized every second of the limited time remaining. The drive involved key conversions on third and fourth downs. After the first two plays yielded no yards, Ohio State successfully converted a third-and-10 with a 23-yard completed to Emeka Egbuka. Four plays later, quarterback Kyle McCord connected with Julian Fleming for a seven-yard gain on a fourth-and-7 with less than 45 seconds remaining.
After McCord was penalized for intentional grounding, Ohio State exhausted its last timeout with just 15 seconds left. On the subsequent play, a third-and-19, McCord completed a 21-yard pass to Egbuka, advancing to the Notre Dame one-yard line with seven seconds remaining. Three plays later, Ohio State scored the decisive touchdown, marking the Buckeyes’ sixth straight triumph over the Fighting Irish.
As far as getting the 11th player into position without any timeouts remaining, Freeman, a former linebacker, said, “Yeah, you could have. But to me it was like, ‘Hey, don’t give them another opportunity to get settled and to try to make a different call, right? Hey, guys, like, stay off the field. Let’s not give them a freebie from the half-yard line and let’s try to stop them and I thought maybe they would do the same thing they did the snap before and then they ended up running the ball.’ So, I got to watch the play and see where the ball hit. But, yeah, that’s why I made that decision.”
Irish Offense Comes Alive
Notre Dame’s offense came alive in the second half. Responding to a Buckeye touchdown, the Irish generated a 75-yard drive that culminated in a Gi’Bran Payne touchdown run. Notre Dame then embarked on an 11-play, 96-yard drive that concluded with a Sam Hartman pass to freshman Rico Flores for a touchdown. The score put the Irish ahead 14-10 at the midway point of the fourth quarter.
While the Fighting Irish’s defense produced an elite performance for much of the night, Hartman had a relatively error-free game. He threw for 175 passing yards and a crucial touchdown against one of the country’s top defenses. It wasn’t enough.
Junior tight end Mitchell Evans had a breakout performance against the Buckeyes. He achieved career highs with seven receptions and 75 yards. With his dependable route running and good hands, Evans was a crucial asset to the offense. He even had a remarkable one-handed catch. Entering the game, Evans had five catches for 63 yards on the season, making his performance Saturday night even more impressive.
The walk-off win for Ohio State is going to sting for the Irish faithful. There were far too many missed opportunities on both sides of the ball for the Irish. Sloppy tackling on defense and inexplicable play-calling on offense slowed the Irish as much as anything the Buckeyes did on the field. It was clearly a game Notre Dame should have won. There will be a lot of reflection on what could have been. Ultimately, though, it all boils down to pivotal moments. In the end, Notre Dame was just one stop away from winning the game. Unfortunately, they left a vulnerability on the left side of their defensive line that allowed for the last-second score.
Hope Springs Eternal
After the disbelief fades, Notre Dame must embrace the power of a short memory. Dwelling on the unfortunate loss to Ohio State won’t shape their future. The Irish must learn from Saturday’s failures on the field and channel their determination to focus on the remaining challenges ahead on the schedule.
With the stunning loss, Notre Dame’s record drops to 4-1 this season. The loss significantly reduces the Irish’s prospects of making it to the College Football Playoff. But there is still a glimmer of hope for Notre Dame to secure a playoff spot, especially if they win out. The schedule includes seemingly tough matchups with Clemson and USC. Next up, Notre Dame faces the undefeated No. 18 Duke Blue Devils in Durham on Saturday in their first opportunity at redemption.
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