Nov 2, 2002
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By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
AP Football Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame pushed its luck too far.
After seeing a stadium full of green "Return to Glory" T-shirts this season, the Fighting Irish decided earlier this week to join the party. It wasn't a good idea.
Wearing green jerseys at home for the first time in 17 years, No. 4 Notre Dame fumbled away a perfect season with a 14-7 loss to Boston College on Saturday.
"I thought it was a good way to encourage our fans in our sea of green we have been talking about," coach Tyrone Willingham said after his first loss at Notre Dame. "It's important, because it talks about an attitude, about the Notre Dame family coming together as one."
Instead, the Fighting Irish fell apart, and the green jerseys ended up motivating the Eagles instead.
"It felt like they didn't respect us at all, " defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "They thought they could come out and do anything; they didn't have to prepare the way they did other games."
Maybe he was right. A model of efficiency in winning their first eight games, the Fighting Irish lost three of their seven fumbles, and backup Pat Dillingham threw two interceptions. One was returned 71 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Jason Ott.
"I was thinking, `Don't trip, don't trip,"' Ott said. "The trick is to always be around the ball and eventually something will happen."
Notre Dame (8-1) entered the game confident it had indeed returned to its glory years after a big win at Florida State last week. But the Irish gave the ball away all day, and the Eagles (5-3) gladly took advantage, scoring both touchdowns courtesy of first-half turnovers.
"We killed ourselves putting the ball on the ground," center Jeff Faine said. "When you keep shooting yourself in the foot, it's tough to win."
Notre Dame held BC to 184 yards and nine first downs, but the Irish could not overcome their own mistakes. Dillingham replaced Carlyle Holiday for the second quarter when the starter went out feeling "woozy" after a hit.
The bitter loss conjured memories of the 1993 season, when unbeaten Notre Dame defeated Florida State and became No. 1, then lost the next week to Boston College in the final game of the regular season.
The Fighting Irish were having their best season since 1993 before running into the Eagles, who ended a 23-game regular-season losing streak against Top 25 teams. It was BC's first win over a top 10 team since beating No. 8 Notre Dame in 1994.
While Notre Dame was all but eliminated from national title contention, the Fighting Irish probably can earn a berth in a BCS bowl game if they close out the season with wins over Navy and Rutgers and USC.
Derrick Knight, who finished with 129 yards on 26 carries, ran 3 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, five plays after Ott recovered a fumble by tailback Ryan Grant.
The clincher came when Dillingham threw a shovel pass right to Ott, who caught the ball in stride and ran untouched for the score with 4:03 left in the first half.
Notre Dame, with an offense ranked 109th among 117 I-A teams, finally scored with 2:25 left when Carlyle Holiday threw a 20-yard TD pass to Maurice Stovall.
The Irish did not try an onside kick but got the ball back at their 24 with 12 seconds remaining. After a holding penalty knocked eight seconds off the clock, Holiday's final desperation pass was batted down at the BC 37 as the Eagles rushed the field and celebrated.
Several Boston College players tore up chunks of grass from the end zone, just as they did after a win here in 1999.
The last time Notre Dame came out wearing green at home was Oct. 26, 1985, when the players changed from blue to green jerseys at halftime of a 37-3 win over USC.
Tom O'Brien doesn't believe past history played a role in BC's upset of Notre Dame.
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Perhaps the most famous switch to green came on Oct. 22, 1977, when the Irish warmed up in blue, then came out in green and beat No. 5 USC 49-19. The win was a springboard to the '77 national championship.
With such a poor past against BC in big games, Willingham believed the time was right to wear green. Boston College coach Tom O'Brien viewed the move as a compliment.
"The guys were excited when they saw the green jerseys," O'Brien said after his biggest win in six years at BC. "They took it as a great sign of respect that we made it ... that we were somebody to be reckoned with ... that they needed the green jerseys to beat us."
Trailing 14-0 at the half, Notre Dame fumbled away two scoring chances early in the third quarter. One drive ended at the BC 11 when Marcus Wilson fumbled and Eagles defensive tackle Tim Bulman recovered. But Boston College gave the ball back when Gerome Sapp intercepted a pass by Brian St. Pierre. Two plays later, Grant fumbled again, and Bulman recovered again at the BC 22.
Dillingham replaced an ineffective Holiday in the second quarter. But the sophomore, who led the Irish to two wins earlier this season when filling in for an injured Holiday, was not up to the task. He threw two interceptions, and Holiday came in for the second half.
A record crowd of 80,935 showed up on a sunny but chilly day. Most expected the Irish to put away the Eagles, then go into USC unbeaten on Nov. 30, with a chance to make it to the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.
Boston College took a 6-0 lead with 2:39 left in the first period. Holiday was unable to stick the ball in Grant's belly, and Ott pounced on the loose ball at the Irish 38. Knight set up his TD run with a 22-yard dash. The extra-point kick was wide left.
When the Irish took possession 3:51 into the third quarter, Holiday was out and Dillingham in. On his second series, Dillingham made the biggest mistake of the game.
With Notre Dame facing third-and-6 at the BC 14, Dillingham dropped back to pass, but the Eagles put on a ferocious rush. The quarterback sidestepped one defender, then inexplicably tried to throw the ball away with a shovel pass. But Ott caught it and ran for the TD with 4:03 left in the half. Brian St. Pierre threw to Sean Ryan for the 2-point conversion, and the Eagles led 14-0.
"I'm hurt. I'm disappointed, because I feel like it didn't have to happen," Willingham said. "But that's athletics. Sometimes you get them. Today, they got us."