Details of memorable moment escape WR Will Fuller
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Will Fuller traveled 39 yards and a thousand years in seven remarkable seconds.
Less than an hour after he caught the ball, crossed the goal line and sent droves of Virginia students waiting to rush the field back up the grassy knoll bordering the end zone, Fuller clutched a football in his right hand and tried his best to remember.
He smiled, shook his head and apologized.
It was all a beautiful blur.
All the junior wide receiver knows, in the immediate wake of Notre Dame’s 34-27 victory, is that he lined up on the outside with 19 seconds remaining, faked a slant to the middle and took off into daylight. After Virginia cornerback Maurice Canady bit on the slant a few plays earlier, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly felt confident he would bite again.
So far, so good.
“I’m happy that the coaches had the confidence to go back to the play, and this time he fired down and we did a double move,” says Fuller, the recipient of four touchdown passes in his last two games. “So it worked perfect.”
The next seven seconds were more like a surreal dream, one that Notre Dame’s premier wide receiver only faintly recalls. The tape will show that he blew by Canady, retrieved the pass from sophomore DeShone Kizer at the 1, skipped over a shoelace tackle and bounded into the end zone. Once there, he found the only Irish fan in sight, pointed at him with a triumphant finger and waited for his teammates to arrive on the scene.
The mob of orange-clad students piling onto the lower half of the grass hill behind the end zone stared back at him, stunned.
He was lifted into the air, his gold helmet looming above the suddenly silent crowd.
Notre Dame led 33-27 with 12 seconds left.
Those are the facts, but not Fuller’s memories.
“It’s a crazy feeling. You’re not thinking anything,” Fuller says. “It’s like time just freezes for a second. It’s crazy. When the ball’s in the air, it’s silent. It felt like the ball was in the air for a thousand years.”
Fuller’s very long, very short, very explosive trip affected the audience inside Scott Stadium in dramatically different ways. Sportswriters attacked their keyboards, frantically altering increasingly irrelevant stories. One Virginia fan in an orange shirt went limp, lying like a slug over the first row of the student section, as morose and motionless as a corpse.
Notre Dame linebacker Joe Schmidt, on the other hand, prepared to finish the job.
“I’ve kind of been on both ends of that, so my first thought was, ‘Are there any flags?’” Schmidt said. “I checked that first and then after that I went around and said, ‘All right, we have to stop them. They’re going to do something in 12 seconds. I got the defense together and said, ‘Let’s get a stop and win this game.”
What Virginia’s offense ended up doing was essentially harmless, gaining just 11 yards before the game ended anticlimactically two plays later.
Fuller, who finished with five catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the victory, sang the alma mater with his teammates and trotted off to the locker room. The student body, on the other hand, trudged back up the grassy hill and dejectedly out of sight.
“It was crazy. It was hyped,” Fuller says, still clutching the football. “It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life, so it was just crazy.”