Five Notre Dame games that really stung

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

Perhaps not enough time has passed since the Notre Dame football team’s loss to Florida State, one that can be described as valiant and epic, but also painful.

With that loss in mind, the following is a compilation of other losses over the last quarter-century that seemed to bring about similar pain.

Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9 (Jan. 1, 1991, Orange Bowl). A called-back touchdown inside the final minute that likely would have given the Irish a victory, in a game played in Florida. Sound familiar?

No, this one isn’t the game played last week. It’s the one played last century, the Orange Bowl following the 1990 season.

The play in question came with the Buffaloes leading late in the fourth quarter and having to punt. With Notre Dame’s Rocket Ismail standing near his own 10-yard line, Colorado punter Tom Rouen for some reason punted right to the ND speedster.

Ismail broke a couple of tackles and outran the Buffaloes to the end zone, where he was swarmed by a couple of teammates. But a few seconds later, even with helmets and facemasks on, bewildered looks were evident as the Irish players realized a penalty flag had been thrown.

Notre Dame’s Greg Davis was called for clipping, bringing the ball back to the Irish 20, and a Rick Mirer interception ended it a few plays later.

Colorado later was named the Associated Press (voted by the press) national champion, but it wasn’t without controversy. Georgia Tech was named the UPI champ in a vote of coaches. The Buffaloes had started the season with a loss and tie in the first three weeks, and also captured a win over Missouri after mistakenly being awarded a fifth down.

As for the Irish, they finished sixth in both polls. And the punt return was the final time that Ismail would touch a ball in an ND uniform, as he went pro following that season.

Boston College 41, Notre Dame 39 (Nov. 20, 1993). According to an ESPN story a few years back, the following occurred among the AP voting in 1993 in November:

• Nov. 1: FSU received all 62 first-place votes

• Nov. 8: FSU received all 62 first-place votes

• Nov. 15: Notre Dame received all 62 first-place votes

• Nov. 22: Five different teams received at least one first-place vote

And Boston College had a lot to do with what happened that final week.

With only a home win over the Eagles separating the Irish from a chance to play for the national championship, Boston College wrecked ND’s season after it had ascended to the No. 1 spot with a win over Florida State the previous week.

The teams had played only four times, with the Irish winning all four, including 54-7 the previous season.

"In January, when I was home after the bowl game, everyone harped on the Notre Dame game," Boston College linebacker Stephen Boyd said. "They said, 'You had a great season, but Notre Dame killed you.' We waited 365 days for this."

ND stormed back from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead, but the Eagles weren’t done. Notre Dame’s Pete Bercich dropped what would have been a game-saving interception on the BC’s winning drive, setting up David Gordon’s 41-yarder on the final play.

Gordon entered the game having attempted only 11 field goals all season, and had missed two game-winning field goal attempts the last two seasons.

He didn’t miss this time, crushing the Irish.

Boston College 14, Notre Dame 7 (Nov. 2, 2002). Like they did in 1993, the Eagles traveled to South Bend the week after ND had posted a big victory over FSU. This time, first-year coach Tyrone Willingham’s Irish had traveled to Tallahassee to knock off the Seminoles, and in doing so moved to 8-0 and climb to No. 4 in the polls.

Then came Boston College the following week.

When the Irish came out for pregame warmups, they wore blue jerseys. When they returned to the locker room for the final time, there was a surprise waiting for them – green jerseys.

“I’ll never forget that,” Irish linebacker Mike Goolsby said a decade later. “Warmups are exhausting as it is. We came in after warmups and there’s green jerseys. I didn’t want to put that thing on. I was tired. I didn’t want to have to take all my gear off and then re-suit back up again.”

Notre Dame that day fumbled seven times, losing three of them. The Irish also threw two interceptions in what was a blah game.

A team that had won because of special teams and defense couldn’t overcome the mistakes, and flaws were beginning to break through. ND was drubbed a few weeks later by an ascending USC team, and later lost to North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl.

The following season, ND stumbled to 5-7, at one point losing six of seven games. Recruiting was lagging and Willingham was jettisoned following the 2004 regular season.

On the bright side? In the ACC football schedules released this week, at no point from now through 2025 does Notre Dame face Boston College the week after playing Florida State.

USC 34, Notre Dame 31 (Oct. 15, 2005). If the score and date don’t adequately identify the game, the nickname will. The Bush Push.

Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart twisted his way into the end zone with three seconds remaining to provide the winning points, but it was how he got to the end zone that created the controversy.

With the ball inside the 1-yard line, Leinart, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, took the snap and moved left. At first he appeared to be stopped short of the goal line, but was nudged by teammate Reggie Bush into the end zone, capping a wild final drive.

Facing a fourth-and-9 at his own 26, Leinart completed a 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett. Later, he scrambled inside the Irish 5, flew toward the end zone and was stopped short as the ball flew out of bounds. The clock continued to run, and for a few moments, the Irish thought they had a monumental victory.

However, seven seconds were put back on the clock and the ball was spotted inside the 1, setting up Leinart’s lunge.

The Irish game plan that day was to keep the Trojan offense off the field, and it nearly worked. The Irish won the time-of-possession battle 38:40-21:20, but SC used big plays to offset the grind-it approach, averaging 7.4 yards per-play.

In the end, though, it came down to one play, the Trojans’ shortest gain of the day.

Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27 (Oct. 18, 2014). This one is the freshest, but where this season goes isn’t yet known, considering the Irish have five games remaining and opportunity to work their way into the four-team playoff picture.

Still, this one hurt.

Trailing by what would become the final score, Irish quarterback Everett Golson found Corey Robinson alone near the goal line to give the Irish what looked like the winning points.

But hold on.

A penalty flag was thrown on ND’s C.J. Prosise for pass interference. Golson was intercepted on the next play and the Seminoles, the defending national champions, escaped with a win.

Hand-wringing and replays and sniping have ensued over the call. ND coach Brian Kelly said FSU was rewarded for blown coverage. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, obviously, agreed with the call.

Two things. The call isn’t coming back. And as cliché as “this is a good time for a bye week” often sounds, this time it really is.

This game stung.

Southerna California quarterback Matt Leinart (11) scores the winning touchdown against Notre Dame with three seconds remaining in the game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005. USC defeated Notre Dame, 34-31. (AP File Photo/JOE RAYMOND)