Noie: It's about time as No. 4 Notre Dame clips No. 1 Clemson

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Get another round for everyone at the ‘Backer and turn loose the student body after everything that's happened around this Notre Dame football program since what happened Saturday last happened.

Go ahead and party like it's 1993.

An evening 27 often frustrating college football seasons in the making finally arrived at Notre Dame Stadium. On a crisp and clear evening, No. 4 Notre Dame sent top-ranked Clemson home with a loss. When the double-overtime drama went final, it marked the first time the nation's No. 1 team left town with an "L" since 1993.

That was long before the internet. And social media. And cell phones. And any thought of needing to socially distance or wear masks or capping stadium crowds that topped out at 11,011 because of a global pandemic. But it was all there Saturday.

This one didn’t come down to a batted-down pass in the south end zone on a warm October afternoon (Miami 1988) or a batted down pass in the north end zone on a warm November afternoon (Florida State, 1993). This one turned for good on a Kyren Williams touchdown run in that same end zone in the second overtime against a team that simply doesn’t lose in the regular season. Perfect for like the last four years. Perfect until Saturday.

Notre Dame 47, Clemson 40.

“This is a game that is literally going to live on forever,” said Irish wide receiver Avery Davis, who cemented his spot in Notre Dame legends lore alongside Pat Terrell and Shawn Wooden with his late-game pass catching. “We just made history.”

The good kind. The best kind. Clemson arrived Friday afternoon having won 36 straight since last losing to Syracuse in 2017. The class of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the class of college football, the Tigers left town early Sunday morning having lost for the first time in 51 Saturdays. Nobody in the ACC has been able to beat Clemson. In its first —  and likely only — season in the ACC, Notre Dame did.

Everyone agreed there was at least one College Football Playoff team on the field when the night started. By the time it ended, you could make a strong case that there were two. Please explain how Notre Dame (7-0; 6-0 ACC) isn't among the best after it just beat the best? Hint: It is.

Need Notre Dame to finally win a big game before you again take this program seriously? It punched one of college football's bullies in the mouth, even after it looked like Clemson had swiped the Irish's lunch money again. Good, but again not good enough.

Outscored in the second half at one point 20-3, unable to get anything going on offense, unable to again tackle on defense, the Irish just kept playing. Kept believing.

These dudes are different. They may be down, and they certainly were Saturday, but they're seemingly never out.

“Our confidence the whole game never switched,” said Williams, the best back on the field after he ran for 140 yards and three scores on 23 carries.

Irish coach Brian Kelly wasn’t interested during the week about opining what this game meant to him or to the program. As Saturday became Sunday, he still didn't have any time for big pictures. Or small ones. He might wander there after the regular season finale next month at Wake Forest. Or before the ACC championship game. Or whatever game comes next.

Soon enough, this one won’t matter. Only Boston College will. That’s life in a conference. That’s life at Notre Dame. Win a big one, then go win another one.

“We’ve got so much more work to do,” Kelly cautioned.

Yet for one magical night, all the work the Irish have done since that 30-3 loss to Clemson in a 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal paid off. Saturday was one of those turn-back-the-clock moments for this program. Back when big wins were the norm and fans didn’t rush fields to celebrate. Back when big wins were expected.

Thanks to replay review after replay review, there was such little buildup to this one's conclusion. The high drama meter never really registered. Instead of barreling toward an epic conclusion, it more was like sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the last five miles of a journey. You start and stop and stop and start, all the while battling amongst your siblings and then realize, wait, we're here? That's it?

That's it.

That's how this one ended. No climatic conclusion. Just a wacky fourth-down play that went nowhere before everyone went everywhere.

Afterward, amid the final score and the big-picture ramifications, everyone in the stands seemingly lost their collective minds. Once this one went final, and Clemson’s last, mad scramble to get a first down in the second overtime fizzled, everything went up for grabs. Students? Get on the field. Players? Get off it.

The student body tumbled toward the field and swarmed the players. There likely were some still in masks, but absolutely zero social distancing. That might put the next couple of weeks in jeopardy for the students, who are going home for the semester soon, and for the players, who have four games remaining.

“When they stormed the field, you got a sense of a special moment at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “I know our players did as well.”

The photos of the post-game scene on the field and the video of the locker room emotions flowing certainly were chill-worthy. After all this program has gone through, after all those guys have gone through, they should cut it all loose. A once-in-a-lifetime moment deserves it.

“The fans storming the field was crazy,” said Davis. “I loved the energy, so it was pretty awesome.”

Given where the world is today, and given where the university president was last month, it also was just a little cringe-worthy.  Kelly saw it coming, and told his team as much during their walk-through. They were going to win that game, he said. When they did, the fans certainly would rush the field. So get off the FieldTurf, get up the tunnel and get to the locker room. Fast.

You know what happens to college kids and listening. Sometimes, they want to be college kids. Even in a pandemic.

“I beat them all to the tunnel,” Kelly said, “so that didn’t go over too good.”

And may not in the coming days. After this one, you wonder what the national poll numbers are going to look like Sunday. Same goes for the campus dashboard numbers. Notre Dame was prepared to play Clemson. It seems stadium officials weren't prepared for what might happen if Notre Dame beat Clemson. Can't rush the field. Not in this day.

Can we do all this again in December in Charlotte at the ACC championship game? Then maybe again in the College Football Playoff?

College football needed what it saw Saturday.

“It was so fun," said quarterback Ian Book. "A night I’ll never forget. No matter how old I am, I know I’ll remember this game forever."

For all the right reasons. Finally.

Notre Dame safety Shaun Crawford (20) celebrates after the Irish upset No. 1 Clemson, 47-40 in two overtimes, Nov. 7 at Notre Dame Stadium.