Quinn Sparks Wild Comeback - (12) Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

EAST LANSING, Mich., Sept 23 — It was wet and wild, choppy and sloppy. There were glaring mistakes, there was much individual brilliance. It was Notre Dame and Michigan State, two old rivals with deep historical context who wrote another memorable chapter in their yearly drama here Saturday night.
When it ended, the Fighting Irish had an improbable 40-37 victory on five touchdown passes by quarterback Brady Quinn and a game-winning interception return by cornerback Terrail Lambert, who ran the ball back 27 yards with 2 minutes and 53 seconds left.
Quinn seemed to fade as a Heisman trophy contender in the first half before reviving his candidacy in the second. Notre Dame overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to raise its record to 3-1 and drop the Spartans to 3-1.
Lambert jumped in front of a Drew Stanton pass intended for Kerry Reed to give Notre Dame its first lead, the only one it needed. On Michigan State’s final drive, Lambert sealed the victory by intercepting Stanton’s last pass.
In the fourth quarter, the Irish outscored the Spartans, 19-0, as Michigan State seemed to unravel in front of a stunned home crowd of 80,193 fans who sat in the swirling wind and rain.
Charlie Weis, the Notre Dame coach, said he asked his players at halftime: “Well, fellas, what’s it going to be?” The victory followed a shocking 47-21 defeat to Michigan last week.
“As low as they were last week at this time, that’s how high they are now,” Weis said of his players. “We have to make sure that we don’t get on an emotional roller coaster.”
Earlier, the game seemed all Michigan State’s. The Spartans took advantage of a fumbled punt return by Tom Zbikowski that set up a touchdown. They ran back a Quinn interception for a touchdown. They used a trick play that had a wide receiver catching a short pass and then throwing a touchdown pass to a running back. But Quinn would not be denied. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 319 yards. Jeff Samardzija caught two of Quinn’s touchdown passes, and so did Rhema McKnight. Samardzija had 7 catches for 113 yards; John Carlson had 4 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Stanton completed 10 of 22 passes for 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and carried 19 times for 89 yards. But he seemed to fade in the wind and the rain. With the Spartans clinging to a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Stanton fumbled at his own 24. The Irish recovered and McKnight caught his second touchdown pass four plays later.
The Spartans wasted timeouts. Their kickoff returner, Demond Williams, intentionally took a knee on a kickoff with no tacklers nearby. That started a drive that ended in Stanton’s game-losing interception.
“We made some stupid mistakes at the end of the game,” Stanton said, including himself in the evaluation.
The Spartans damaged themselves with nine penalties. One of them came during a fracas in front of the Notre Dame bench after Chinedum Ndukwe of Notre Dame was penalized for chasing Stanton into the bench and roughing him on a tackle attempt.
John L. Smith, the Michigan State coach, sighed deeply and seemed to choke on his words as he tried to explain the stunning defeat. “We made too many mistakes when it counted,” Smith said. “We’ve got to find a way to finish.”
This was the 70th meeting between the schools. The Spartans had won two of the previous three games and seven of the previous nine. Both Quinn and Coach Charlie Weis said their motivation was an incident last season when the Spartans players planted their “S” flag in the Notre Dame turf after beating the Irish in overtime.
The Irish lead the overall series, 44-25-1, and that last digit — that one tie — provided the bigger backdrop for Saturday’s game between two schools 160 miles apart. It was 40 years ago that these two teams played to a 10-10 tie on this field when both were vying for the national championship.
Spartan players from that 1966 team gathered here for a reunion this weekend. Weis said he took the ball at the end of Saturday’s game and will present it to the 1966 Irish players.
Michigan State led by 17-0 after one quarter and by 31-14 at halftime. The Spartans’ Kerry Reed scored on a 34-yard play, the first of his two touchdown catches. His second was for 15 yards. Javon Ringer had the other, for 26 yards, the trick play, a pass from Matt Trannon off a lateral.
Zbikowski, his fumble a minor note after the game, said: “This is probably the biggest comeback I have ever been a part of. To finally get a win against them was pretty big.”