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Saturday, October 3, 2009
Irish add another storybook ending to crazy season



Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis waited to celebrate when he saw the ball pop out of Washington receiver D'Andre Goodwin's hands on the final play of Saturday's game. Weis still worried that it would end up in another Husky's bread basket.

"With the way that game went," Weis said, "would it have surprised you?"

Anything short of Touchdown Jesus coming to life and kicking a winning field goal fails to rate as a surprise at this point with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish seem determined to build their own library full of bad sports movie clichés with every passing game.
 
 Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
 Notre Dame celebrates its overtime victory over Washington on Saturday.


The previous three weeks all came down to the final minute; as with most bloated sequels, they took Vol. 4 to absurd new levels in Saturday's 37-30 overtime win over Washington. It's almost as if they wanted the Huskies to stay in the game the way they kicked five field goals instead of producing touchdowns, and how Jimmy Clausen inexplicably gave away seven points with a lateral pass to nowhere.

Meanwhile, the Irish defense could only stop Washington when it ran out room left to defend. Then it became impenetrable.

Huskies quarterback Jake Locker was stopped twice on sneaks inside the 1 near the end of the third quarter, which was only a prelude to the preposterous fourth-quarter goal-line sequence.

Washington had first-and-goal from the 1, needing a touchdown for a nearly insurmountable two-score lead. Notre Dame made another stand until Ian Williams was called for a bizarre roughing-the-snapper penalty on the field goal try. That gave the Huskies another set of downs from the 1.

"We were thinking, 'They can't score,'" Irish defensive lineman Kerry Neal said. "We worked on goal line all during camp against our own guys."

Sure, but had the defense ever won three straight battles in those practice situations?

"No, not at all," Neal admitted.

Improbably, the Huskies once again failed to reach the end zone and settled for three points. The entire sequence burned nearly five minutes off the clock. But Clausen still had plenty of time to direct a go-ahead touchdown drive for the second straight week.

"We were smiling," receiver Golden Tate said. "We were like, 'Here we go again.'"
 
 AP Photo/Michael Conroy
 Charlie Weis' team has made a habit this season of taking things down to the wire.


After Clausen's touchdown strike to tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Irish went for two for a 30-27 lead. Tailback Robert Hughes was met well short of the goal line but kept chugging forward. He got some assistance from his offensive linemen on a play that was highly reminiscent of the infamous "Bush Push" on this very field in 2005.

Ironically enough, former USC assistants Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt -- now the Huskies' head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively -- argued that the play should be disallowed. A flag was thrown but then waved off.

You can't make this stuff up.

Winning with a full 1:20 left on the clock would be boring, though. So, of course, Washington drove for a tying field goal in the waning seconds. Notre Dame needed just two plays to score in overtime, then pinned Washington on a third-and-19 thanks to a Neal sack.

Locker's fourth-down fling hit a leaping Goodwin in the paws just in front of the end zone. But safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith sandwiched him in a helmet-freeing slobberknocker.

Exhale. Celebrate.

"A win is a win," linebacker Brian Smith said. "I'll take ugly wins, close wins, 100-point wins -- they all count."

The Irish (4-1) only get one type of win any more: by the slimmest of shamrock leaves. Are they clutch or just lucky?

"There's no way the last three weeks can be attributed to luck," McCarthy insisted. "I think it's the character of this team and the resiliency of this team that allows us to make the play at the end."

As fans filed out of Notre Dame Stadium, rolling cheers filled the concourses. Some started chanting, "Beat SC," already looking forward to the Oct. 17 showdown with Southern Cal. The Irish figure to be a significant underdog.

But, really, would anything surprise you any more about this team?