How did Notre Dame TE Ben Koyack get so open?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

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SOUTH BEND — No goal-line drama like two years ago.

But the finish made almost four hours in the cold, rain and wind Saturday worth it.

How in the heck did Ben Koyack get so wide open?

Game, maybe even the season, on the line for the Notre Dame football team. Just over a minute to play and the Irish trailed by four. Down to their last bullet – fourth-and-11 from the Stanford 23 – Everett Golson did what he does best.

The Irish quarterback refused to panic, extended an already convoluted play, rolled left, and finally located a lonely Koyack in the left corner of the end zone to send a soggy crowd home in ecstasy, 17-14.

The Cardinal allegedly dropped eight defenders to protect against someone sneaking deep into the end zone and spoiling what appeared to be a nice road victory.

Stanford coach David Shaw didn’t have a clue how it all transpired. He just shrugged at the question.

“There was no coverage on Notre Dame’s touchdown pass,” said Shaw. “It sounds sarcastic, but he was wide open; there was nobody on him.”

Stanford’s defense spent the entire game pestering, badgering, and knocking the Irish offense around. Then, on the last play, with everything on the line, the Cardinal bailed.

“We got five (receivers) out,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “If you bring pressure, we're going to have to get the ball out of our hands quickly. They had shown that they were going to play zone down there. It's a difficult route to defend, if we can get all five out.

“We … flooded the zone. Everett was just patient enough to get the ball out and make a big play.”

“I had a corner route,” Koyack said. “I was just running, I broke my route off. I saw I didn't have anyone playing me inside/out. I saw a safety inside. I didn't see anyone underneath me. I had confidence that Everett would see me, and he did.”

“I went to my first read and he wasn't there,” said Golson, who had to throw across his body. “I began to just improvise a little bit. I guess they busted the coverage a little bit, and I found Koyack in the back of the end zone.

“Based off their coverage, it probably wasn't supposed to be there. But (I’m) just thankful that he was for sure.”

“I was on the far side covering underneath, so I didn’t get to see much of it,” said Stanford safety Zach Hoffpauir. “I just saw that the tight end caught it. It was a good play by Golson to stay alive.”

So, what does winning like that mean in the big picture of the Irish campaign?

Notre Dame spent a special season in 2012 being rescued regularly by the defense. Now’s the offense’s opportunity to return the favor. The confidence that accompanies such an invigorating finish is going to help the Irish down the road.

“It does a lot for our team,” said Golson, who took two critical turnovers out of the spotlight with the late heroics. “I would say, to be the quarterback here, you have to have a tough skin. For me, I never really thought that we were going to lose and things like that. I always try to be resilient through the turnovers.”

“It gives us great confidence and it shows everyone else on our team that we can execute when we need to and just exactly what we're capable of,” said Koyack. “That just means that when we go out to practice Monday, Tuesday, we just have to focus that much harder, so that we do have the potential to be a great team.”

Kelly talked about the need for big-chunk plays against what’s considered the best defense in the country. In terms of plays of at least 16 yards, the Irish had five runs and two passes en route to 370 yards of total offense.

“Holding (Stanford) to 14 points, it's pretty hard,” Golson said. “(The offense) didn't always capitalize on the things that we should have, when they gave us the ball and great field position. I definitely felt like I owed it to them a little bit. “

The offense provided the drama this time around.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com | (574) 235-6318

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Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack, right, makes a game-winning touchdown catch next to Stanford’s Jordan Richards in the fourth quarter of a 17-14 Irish win. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)