Notre Dame WR Will Fuller celebrates homecoming with win

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — The night was supposed to be a grand homecoming for Will Fuller.

Through 55 minutes, it looked to be anything but that.

Yet in the moment when Notre Dame needed a big play from its star receiver Saturday night, the Philadelphia native stood tall.

Fuller, who attended high school less than five miles away from Lincoln Financial Field, hauled in a 17-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 2:09 remaining in a 24-20 win over Temple.

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer lofted the ball to Fuller near the right sideline in the end zone and the leading Irish receiver corralled the pass and kept himself in bounds. Fuller finished in the end zone behind the cornerback and safety on his side of the field

“It was his decision to come that way with the hole shot,” Fuller said of Kizer’s throw splitting zone coverage. “He threw that perfect pass in there.”

Fuller raised his right hand in the air to celebrate the score while looking into the stands where more than 100 of his friends and family were expected to see him play.

“I know they’re proud of me and I’m happy the game ended the way it did,” Fuller said.

Notre Dame’s star receiver had made big plays in nearly every stadium he played in over the last two seasons. Now the biggest football arena in his hometown had been added to the list.

Fuller caught 27 touchdown passes in his varsity career at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School. None were bigger than his latest effort in the City of Brotherly Love.

“Great way to cap off the trip,” Fuller said. “Just getting that W is awesome.”

Fuller was stifled for the majority of the game by Temple’s defense.

He entered the game-winning drive with only three catches for 22 yards. His two catches for 24 yards in that pivotal series saved the Irish from disappointment. Fuller’s touchdown followed a 45-yard reception from freshman tight end Alizé Jones. It was Notre Dame’s longest completion of the game.

“We never lose confidence,” Fuller said. “We know we have explosive players and it can happen at any second. We just stay confident and keep playing.”

Notre Dame tried to force the ball to Fuller early. Kizer threw his way on the first three plays of the game. The first pass fell incomplete. Fuller caught a screen on the second play but was bottled up for only two yards. Fuller then added an 11-yard reception for an Irish first down.

Kizer looked for Fuller on the following third down. The two couldn’t connect, but Fuller drew a defensive pass interference penalty to move the chains for the Irish. The 15-yard penalty would be the most productive play that involved Fuller through the first three quarters.

Notre Dame had a chance to extend its 14-10 lead in the final minutes before halftime, but a ball intended for Fuller was deflected near the goal line by cornerback Tavon Young and intercepted by linebacker Tyler Matakevich. Fuller was temporarily denied his ninth touchdown of the season.

Notre Dame wide receivers Chris Brown (six catches for 72 yards) and Torii Hunter Jr. (five catches for 62 yards) helped carry the Notre Dame passing attack while Fuller waited.

But Notre Dame’s go-to guy ripped victory away from Temple in the final minutes. The hometown hero became the Cinderella spoiler.

“It’s huge,” Kizer said of Fuller scoring the game winner. “You don’t really feel that when you’re out there. You don’t really think about that at all.

“But you come back in the locker room and think about how many fans that he had in the stands, and the situation he’s been going through all year going up and down — it’s always good to put the ball in his hands. I’m proud to have him as a teammate and I’m glad that he got to experience that in front of his family.”

Will Fuller was officially back home — in Philadelphia and in the end zone.

Notre Dame's Will Fuller (7) runs of the field after a Fighting Irish win against Temple, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ