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1989 - Notre Dame 34, West Virginia 21
By Mike Diegnan

Just like this season, Miami's eyes were focused elsewhere during bowl season 12 years ago. On Jan. 2, 1989, the 'Canes geared up to watch the Fiesta Bowl, looking for a glimmer of hope that they could still win the national championship, when they played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl later that night.

Miami lost to Notre Dame in October when Jimmy Johnson chose to go for two in South Bend and failed. It vaulted the Irish to No. 1, and a win over No. 3 West Virginia in Tempe would clinch Notre Dame's first national title in 11 years.

Miami's hopes of forcing voters into choosing a champion between West Virginia and Miami came to naught as the Irish prevailed 34-21 on the strength of quarterback Tony Rice and a punishing defense.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame celebrates its 1988 national championship after crushing West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
Of course, leading up to the game, Lou Holtz insisted his team couldn't pass the ball and that Rice wasn't a good thrower.

"I don't argue with Coach Holtz," Rice said, tongue in cheek after the game. "If he says we can't throw, we can't throw."

Instead, Rice outdueled West Virginia's Major Harris by completing 7-of-11 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns.

"For a guy who wasn't supposed to be able to throw, he looked all right to me," said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen.

Harris had been the force behind the Mountaineers' surprise run at the national title. But on the third play of the game, Michael Stonebreaker and Jeff Alm separated his left shoulder with a harsh hit on an option play. It was his non-passing arm and did not force him to miss any time, but the sophomore quarterback was never the same.

"It definitely affected my scrambling," said Harris, who ran for only 11 yards and passed for 166. "I think on certain plays, I was thinking about my shoulder. Every time I landed on it, I could feel the pain."

While Harris battled his injury, Rice was moving Notre Dame up and down the field. Before the Mountaineers could muster a single first down, Rice had the Irish leading 16-0 on a Billy Hackett field goal and touchdown runs by Anthony Johnson and Rodney Culver more than five minutes into the second quarter.

Raghib Ismail
Freshman Raghib "Rocket" Ismail's touchdown gave Notre Dame a 23-3 lead late in the second quarter.
With two minutes remaining in the first half, Rice connected with Raghib "Rocket" Ismail for 29 yards and another score. Although WVU hit a field goal on the last play of the half, the Irish held a commanding 23-6 lead at the break.

The lead was 26-6 when West Virginia mounted its final rally. Harris directed a 74-yard drive capped off by a 17-yard TD pass to Grantis Bell that cut the lead to 26-13 with 3:32 remaining in the third quarter. Harris then looked to capitalize on Rice's lone mistake of the day -- a pass intercepted by Willie Edwards -- that gave the Mountaineers the ball on the Irish 26.

The Notre Dame defense had a different agenda. On first down, Flash Gordon dropped Harris for a two-yard loss on an option play. On second down, Stan Smagala deflected a pass in the end zone. On third down, Frank Stams and Arnold Ale sacked Harris for a 12-yard loss that knocked West Virginia out of field goal range.

"Disaster," said Nehlen, whose offense was limited to 282 yards after averaging 482.7 yards and 42.9 points per game during the season. "That was the turning point. Had we put something on the board there, we're in business. That was a monster."

Rice promptly delivered the final blow to West Virginia's national championship hopes. After he ran 15 yards on a QB draw, Rice hit flanker Ricky Watters with a 57-yard pass that set up a 3-yard TD toss to Frank Jacobs. After Rice ran in for the 2-point conversion, the Irish held an insurmountable 34-13 lead.

The Fiesta Bowl victory completed Holtz's masterpiece, and returned Notre Dame to where Holtz felt it should be -- on top.

Mike Diegnan is the editor of

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