This one was a day and a game to remember for the Irish seniors who kept it all on track
SOUTH BEND — On a miserable day where the snow and cold and wind ripped right through you and took your spirit if you allowed it, a group of Notre Dame football seniors shrugged it all off and made sure this day was magical. And memorable.
For them. For you. For everyone involved with Notre Dame football. This day, one of snow and cold and wind, was about those Irish leaders. And their leadership.
Leaders like fifth-year left guard Jarrett Patterson, who returned for one more run, one he hoped would end in chasing down the program’s first national championship since 1988. At the very least, Patterson battled through an offseason injury and another as training camp commenced with the goal of guiding a return to a College Football Playoff semifinal for the third time in his five years.
Leaders like vyper defensive end Isaiah Foskey set aside his Sunday dreams to set the all-time sack record (he got it Saturday) en route to that national championship. Like right guard Josh Lugg was back for a sixth year because he believed so much in this team’s potential to again be among the nation’s elite.
Leaders like Bo Bauer and Avery Davis, who poured everything they had into their final seasons, only to see them cut short by knee injuries. Many other seniors with similar stories about sacrifice were recognized Saturday before the home finale. Months earlier, in the home opener, everything they had hoped and dreamed about this season went so sideways. A loss to Marshall. An 0-2 start. An endless list of concerns and questions and disappointment and doubt.
Everything that group had hoped and worked for and dreamed about was gone. Notre Dame was bad, and that’s never good. There would be no national championship chase. There would be no return trip to the College Football Playoff. There would be no New Year’s bowl game of much consequence. Heck, at that point in early September, nobody knew if this group had what it took to get to a bowl of any kind.
But those guys, those leaders, they believed. There was no other option. Put on the pads, go back to the practice field and lead. They learned some tough lessons and had to work through some dark days in September. Some doubt. A lot of disappointment. Sure, there were days when they had to muster the motivation to keep plugging along, to keep being the leaders, the faces of the 2022 Irish football team. They had to.
When you’re a leader in this program, there is no other choice. Win? Lead. Lose? Lead.
They weren’t just in this for themselves. There were juniors and sophomores and freshmen that looked to them, that needed their guidance, their experience, their determination to not only live up to the standard of what Notre Dame football has been, but may again be.
“I’m proud of the way they’ve led our program,” said head coach Marcus Freeman. “Are we playing better? Yes. Right now, we’re just in the moment. It goes back to the leadership.”
That’s why Saturday mattered. It wasn’t just about those seniors on Senior Day, many playing roles in a 44-0 victory over Boston College. It also was about the young guys like Logan Diggs and Benjamin Morrison all still proving that they’re pulling the same direction.
This one was for the old guys, but this one was about that program. It was about meeting that standard of Notre Dame (8-3). It was about winning for the eighth time in the last nine Saturdays. It was about winning for a fourth straight Saturday, about the chance to get to nine wins next week out in Los Angeles against you-know-who.
Yeah, you know. You have to know.
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Saturday was about finally playing four complete quarters of football and about not playing down to the opponent. About stepping on the gas early and often against an overmatched Boston College team and not giving it any reason to believe. Not when the field conditions were clear and dry in the first half. Not when the snow and the wind rolled in the second and made the floor of the old stadium look like a Snow Globe for the media’s vantage point way up on the ninth floor.
Where was the ball? What yard line? Who knew? Who cared? It was the coldest game that Freeman has ever been in as a coach, as an assistant, as a head coach. He didn’t mind.
“Man, what a win,” he said. “What a way to go out at Notre Dame Stadium.”
This one wasn’t just about beating Boston College but bringing everything about this season at home full circle. Early Saturday evening, the post-game scene had the look and the feel a lot like it did after that loss to Marshall. Back then, players and coaches couldn’t wait to get off the field. They were embarrassed.
Saturday, they couldn't wait to get off the field. This time, they had smiles. They just wanted to get somewhere warm.
The Irish had prepared outside all week. In the snow and cold on Tuesday. In the snow and cold on Wednesday. And on Thursday. That helped give them the mindset that come gameday, there would be no excuses.
“It was cold,” said Diggs, who again ran for 100-plus yards (122). “But it was doable.”
Doable because for the guys with eligibility remaining, there was no other option. Win and win big for the guys who’d led the way back from 0-2. The guys who helped show the young guys that no matter how hard the road might be, and it was really hard two months ago, you have to keep traveling it, no matter where it might lead. Keep pushing and pursuing and pulling your teammates along because somewhere along the line, there’s going to be a payoff.
Saturday came the payoff. Beat up and beat down a bad Boston College team. Show everyone that when everything’s right this is what it all can look like. Forty-four points and 437 yards and five takeaways for the Irish and next to nothing for the other guys.
Down on the field as the final seconds ticked away, it was beyond miserable. It was cold. There was snow. There was wind. But over on that Irish sideline, there were smiles as guys who don’t ever get in, got in on a day/night/game/moment they’ll long remember.
Even the main guys like sophomore left tackle Joe Alt, took time to soak in the scene in the second half with the snow flying sideways. Embrace it. File it away for a few years down the road when they’re seniors and it’s their last game. He’ll think of Lugg and Patterson and the others who won their final game on a cold and snowy and windy Saturday.
“They set the standard day in and day out,” Alt said. “We wanted to send our seniors out the right way. We prepared that way all week.”
This has been anything but a stick-to-the-script kind of season for Notre Dame, so no reason for any of that to change the rest of the way. Southern California felt so far away early Saturday evening in the snow and the cold and the wind of Northern Indiana, but for this group in this regular season, it’s now within reach.
Go grab it. And bring back some of that nice weather. We could use it.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.