NASHVILLE, TN – Anything can happen in the postseason, there are no guarantees and always plenty of surprises. That was the case Tuesday at the Franklin American Music City Bowl when the No. 23 ranked Louisiana State Tigers met on the gridiron with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
In the end it was Irish Eyes that were smiling, while the Eye of the Tiger was left in disbelief. Notre Dame played one of its best games of the year to upset the Tigers 31-28 on a field goal in the game’s final seconds.
Yes, the field goal unit that had been giving Notre Dame troubles all season was the same unit that saved the season Tuesday evening at LP Field. Some personnel changes to the unit led to several easy field goals being missed towards the end of the year by senior kicker Kyle Brindza. But those problems never made an appearance in the bowl game as Brindza was 4-4 on extra points and perfect on his one field goal attempt.
After the Irish forced an LSU punt with just over five minutes remaining in the game, Notre Dame used a 14-play, 71-yard drive to set up Brindza for the game-winning, 32-yard, field goal as time expired.
“To leave a program so historic like this in this kind of fashion is great,” Brindza said. “It’s a blessing for me, but also to be able to help win a game for all my teammates is a bigger blessing.”
In total, Tuesday’s game only had two official field goal attempts, but the special teams played a huge part in the overall outcome. The biggest specialist play, perhaps, came right before the end of the first half as LSU seemingly lined up for a short field goal, but instead faked the attempt as holder Brad Kragthorpe took off running for the goal line. Notre Dame stopped him short, but a replay showed that Kragthorpe may have scored. After a lengthy official review, the call stood as called on the field and Notre Dame entered the half up 21-14, much to the dismay of LSU fans and players.
“The guy that carried the ball, forcing it, said he absolutely scored,” Les Miles, LSU head coach, said. “Kids will be kids, but this guy’s going to tell the truth.”
Notre Dame made another huge special teams play by blocking a Trent Domingue field goal attempt in the fourth quarter that would have given LSU a 31-28 lead.
Tuesday’s game also hinged on the success of two budding stars. For Notre Dame, that star was quarterback Malik Zaire. Zaire made his first career start in the game and he shined in the spotlight. The sophomore led his team by going 12-15 passing for 96 yards and a first quarter scoring pass to Will Fuller. Zaire also led the team with 96 rushing yards and seven-yard score that came in the second quarter.
Zaire’s performance led to him being named the games Most Valuable Player.
LSU was fueled by Leonard Fournette. It could even be argued that Fournette was the only reason the Tigers stayed in the game. The highly touted freshman had a coming-out party against the Irish. Fournette scored the first two Tigers touchdowns, and three of the team’s four total.
He broke the seam in the second quarter for a 100-yard kick return and would show his strength and speed again in the third with an 89-yard touchdown run from scrimmage. The fab freshman finished with 265 all-purpose yards. Fournette looked to be the X-factor that would push LSU over the top, but Notre Dame rose to the challenges that he and the Tigers presented.
“This was a matchup that we had wanted at Notre Dame, and I know LSU felt the same way,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “”We wanted to be challenged. We were disappointed in the way we played obviously at the end of the year, and our guys wanted the opportunity to finish the season the right way.”
C.J. Procise had a 50-yard score for the Irish, while fellow tailback Tarean Folston had a rushing score of his own for Notre Dame. LSU out-gained the Irish on the ground 285-263 but Notre Dame had more passing yards, 186-151. The Irish were 11-17 on third down and committed no turnovers. LSU had one fumble lost.
The Irish and Tigers both finish the 2014 season with a record of 8-5.