Another Fighting Irish tale from “The Clarkives”
By: Len Clark PhD.
The Fighting Irish made their first ever trip to Charlottesville, VA, in 2015, as part of the ACC agreement. It was only the second meeting between the schools; the first being at the Meadowlands in 1989 in the Kickoff Classic.
It would also be my first trip to cover a game at Virginia.
I was looking forward to the game and to see a former student who was working at UVA.
The Irish were ranked 9th in the nation after opening the season with a 38-3 victory over Texas at Notre Dame Stadium and were led by Quarterback Malik Zaire, who had won the starting job. Zaire was 19-22 for 313 yards and threw for 3 TDs against the Longhorns and Irish fans were excited about the play of the Kettering, OH native.
Zaire led the Fighting Irish into Scott Stadium that afternoon with confidence and swagger, but would leave the game on crutches and his future uncertain – despite an Irish win that was decided in the final :12 seconds of the game.
You may remember the look of disbelief on Virginia fans faces and the dejection of one who was slumped over a wall.
I remember the look of devastation in Zaire’s eyes.
2015 was a year that truly defined the “next man in mentality”. And it wasn’t just Zaire. The plague had started with Jarron Jones during pre-season camp and continued with among others, Tarean Folston, Drue Tranquill, and Durham Smythe and ended with Jaylon Smith lying on the turf with a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. But, the Irish rolled to double digit wins anyway, despite losing starter after starter to injury.
“Next man in”, indeed.
With Zaire going down with a season ending broken ankle, enter DeShone Kizer with the Irish leading 26-14.
But the Cavaliers did not quit and scored 2 TDs in the 4th quarter to take a 27-26 lead with 1:54 in regulation. A key stat was Virginia going for 2 after their final TD– but the pass was incomplete setting up the final drive for the Irish.
A drive where a legend was born.
The Irish started on their own 20.
Kizer found Wide Receiver Will Fuller open for an 8 yard gain to the ND 28. On second down and 2, Kizer targeted Fuller again, but the pass fell incomplete to bring up 3rd and 2.
The Irish called timeout.
Out of the timeout, Kizer again targeted Fuller and, once again, the pass was incomplete to bring up 4th down and 2 at the ND 28.
On 4th down, Kizer tucked the ball in and found 2 yards to get the first down.
1st and 10 at the ND 32 with 1:15 remaining.
Kizer then connected with Wide Receiver Corey Robinson for an 11 yard gain and a first down that took the ball to the ND 43 with :54 remaining.
C.J. Procise was next on the receiving end of a 17 yard pass from Kizer to get the ball to the Virginia 40 yard line, but time had become critical and a timeout was called with :43 left on the clock.
Out of the timeout, Kizer, again, found Procise but for only a one yard gain to the Virginia 39 yard line with :34 seconds to play.
The next play would decide the game.
Would the Irish go to 2-0, or would they fall on the road to the Cavaliers?
I was in the end zone and anticipated where the play might go (I’m in the upper right hand corner).
I guessed correctly.
Kizer called the signals from the shotgun; was pressured and waited as long as he could for the speedy Will Fuller to get a step on his defender.
Kiser dropped a dime, TOUCHDOWN Irish! Notre Dame takes a 32-26 lead.
Brian Kelly raised his fingers to signal, go for 2.
Kizer took the snap and found Torii Hunter in the end zone for the 2-point conversion to give the Irish a 34-26 lead.
Virginia would needed a TD and a 2-point conversation to tie the game.
They got the ball back with :04 seconds, but ran out of time and dreams of defeating the Irish.
Notre Dame wins.
Brian Kelly in the post-game interview would call the victory “bittersweet”, and the reigns were handed over to Deshone Kizer for the rest of the season at quarterback.
Notre Dame would end the season at 10-3 and lose to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
One wonders what the season might have looked like should Zaire have stayed healthy. He would eventually transfer to Florida, while Kizer would leave for the NFL after the 2016 season.
“Next man in Kizer to Fuller against Virginia” entered the big book of Irish legend…. and I wonder whatever happened to the Virginia student who was hanging over the wall.