SOUTH BEND, Ind. - While Irish eyes were smiling for the first time in five weeks following Notre Dame's 28-7 victory over Duke Saturday in South Bend, frowns painted the faces of a disappointed Blue Devil squad that recorded its 10th loss for the third consecutive season.
"This is a heartbreaker," Duke fullback Clifford Harris said. "This was a big game for us to prove ourselves to everybody, especially on national TV, that we could beat good teams."
In a battle of programs desperately trying to save face down the stretch after compiling matching 1-9 records, Duke (1-10) and Notre Dame (2-9) had been equally inept on both sides of the ball throughout most of the first half, combining for 104 penalty yards and two missed field goals while rarely threatening to reach the end zone.
But as it increasingly looked like the teams would share a scoreless tie going into halftime, it all fell apart in the last 1:17 for the Blue Devils.
Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass to David Grimes with just over a minute remaining to put Notre Dame up 7-0. Fifty-nine ticks later, Irish free safety Kyle McCarthy knocked the ball loose from Duke wide receiver Jomar Wright, forcing a fumble that again set up Notre Dame at the Blue Devil 25-yard line.
With 12 seconds remaining in the half, Clausen lofted a pass to the left corner of the endzone, where 6-foot-5 Duval Kamara had established himself in front of 5-foot-9 cornerback Leon Wright. Kamara pulled down the jump ball, giving the Fighting Irish a 14-0 lead going into the break.
"We had one score and 12 seconds left and I said, 'I really don't have time to run the ball to get in better position to kick a field goal because I won't have time to clock it, so we'll take one shot to the end zone,'" Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said. "Fortunately Duval came up with that play, and that was a big momentum changer going into the locker room.... I thought that if either team got up two scores, it was going to be a tough task for the other team to win the way things were going at the time."
The stunned Blue Devils could not recover in the second half, as the Notre Dame running attack continued to pound the rain-soaked turf and a fatigued Duke defense for 220 yards and a touchdown on the game.
"It's very disappointing," head coach Ted Roof said. "We're knotted up there at zero until they get 14 points in the last two minutes of the first half, so you're talking about a one-score game that could go either way.... It was certainly a great opportunity for us that didn't work out."
Duke had its chances to strike back in the second half, but inconsistency doomed the Blue Devils every time. Following a 16-yard completion from quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to Eron Riley that put Duke on the Notre Dame 42-yard line early in the third quarter, Lewis overthrew a wide open Riley down the field on a play that would have put them on the board or in the red zone for the first time in the game. Two plays later, a fumbled snap-one of the team's three fumbles on the afternoon- led to a fourth-down punt.
The Blue Devils were held scoreless for 58 minutes, as two first-half turnovers, a missed 42-yard field goal by Nick Maggio and an inability to convert on third down pushed Duke to the brink of its first shutout on the season. In the game, third downs were key, as Duke managed to convert just 4-of-16 opportunities, while Notre Dame captured 10-of-18, its most on the season.
Meanwhile, in the air and on the ground, the Irish freshmen reigned supreme. Clausen racked up 194 yards and three touchdowns on 16-for-32 passing, including the two 25-yard touchdown tosses, his longest on the season. Robert Hughes, who came in with just 48 rushing yards on the year, racked up 115 yards on 17 carries, including a 13-yard touchdown run right through the teeth of the Blue Devil defense to give Notre Dame a 21-0 lead with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
"On defense, we had way too many big plays down the field. Offensively, we couldn't put points on the board," defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase said. "We got our butts kicked, and we feel terrible. The score is evident, we played terrible as a team."
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