It was Mayhem long into the night and the wee hours of Sunday morning; Notre Dame had won its biggest game in nearly 27 years. During a global pandemic, there was nothing that would stop the crowd from celebrating this moment.
The No. 4 Fighting Irish had beaten No. 1 Clemson in double overtime, 47-40, earning a much-needed statement win. It was every sense of the word emotional. The 11,011 who had filled the stadium formed a mosh pit at midfield. Clemson players would have to wait in the endzone as the crowd diminished to enter the dark, cramped visitors tunnel.
It’s a moment that will live for eternity in South Bend. And rightfully so.
Earlier in the day, President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Trump sparked celebrations in cities across the United States, including New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington, DC.
It was a big day in American history as it was for the Notre Dame faithful, too.
If thousands of people can gather and celebrate Biden winning the presidential election, then thousands of kids, aged 19-22, can do the same. It’s the biggest party in South Bend since the Irish beat No. 1 Florida State in ’93.
Students were hugging—high fiving and jumping up to touch the crossbar. Girls were on the boys’ shoulders—almost all wearing masks.
It wasn’t that the Notre Dame administration let them, but there was no way to stop it. After a win like that, people storm the field. The emotion and love for the game will always win.
Coach Brian Kelly has done wonders for his program. He has Notre Dame among the college football greats, but they’re not yet elite. The Irish have won 13 straight and 30 of its last 33 games. Clemson, who was riding a 36-game regular-season winning streak, looked vulnerable.
Without the most talented college football player, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the offense didn’t miss a beat. True freshman DJ Uiagalelei finished 29-of-44 for 439 yards and two touchdowns. And it’s unsure Lawerence would have had better numbers.
But having several key defensive players out, Clemson struggled. Without linebacker James Skalski, Clemson found trouble creating confusion–something defensive coordinator Brent Venables is so good at making.
Ian Book was spectacular. He may not check all the boxes at the next level, but he creates a spark. He has been searching for his one defending moment all his career—and finally got it against the No. 1 team in the land.
Book had fumbled a potential go-ahead touchdown into the end zone in the third quarter. Notre Dame settled for four field goals, two of which should have been touchdowns. The Irish allowed the Tigers to stay in the game and failed to put it out of reach.
Then, Book connected with Avery Davis for the tying touchdown.
It was going to overtime.
Two plays in, Clemson took the lead. Four plays later, Notre Dame tied it with a touchdown.
It took Notre Dame seven plays to score and take a 47-40 lead in the second overtime. The Irish defense came out with a fire knowing the victory was in sight. They sacked Uiagalelei twice and didn’t leave the wide receivers any room.
After a fourth-down desperation attempt by Clemson, the game was over. The stands emptied. The luck of the Irish came through. And it was the kind of celebration that you expect to see.
It will be short-lived, though, as the COVID-19 protocols remain in place and Notre Dame shifts its focus to Boston College. The same team that beat Notre Dame a week after the Irish beat No. 1 Florida State in ’93 and cost them a national championship.