SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- After looking inept and unimaginative
for 36 minutes, Notre Dame found a way to win. Again.
The No. 9 Fighting Irish kept their unbeaten season going with
their most convincing win yet by scoring 21 points in the span of
3:13 late in the third quarter to break open a close game and beat
Stanford 31-7 Saturday.
It started with a pair of touchdowns 24 seconds apart as Rashon
Powers-Neal scored on a 3-yard run and Shane Walton intercepted a
pass -- his fifth in five games -- and returned it 18 yards for a
touchdown. Courtney Watson added another 34-yard interception
return for a score 1:47 later as the Irish opened a 24-7 lead.
"Everything really seemed to come together,'' Irish coach
Tyrone Willngham said.
Willingham -- who was Stanford's coach for the past seven years --
joins Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Jesse Harper as the only
full-time Notre Dame coaches to open 5-0 in their first seasons at
Notre Dame already has matched its win total from last season,
and Willingham has his longest winning streak since Stanford won
its last five games of the 1996 season.
Stanford (1-3) is off to its worst start since opening 1998 with
one win in its first nine games. The Cardinal, who gave up 65
points in a loss to Arizona State a week earlier, have given up 96
points in two weeks, its worst performance since allowing 98 points
in 1998 in a 63-28 loss to Oregon and 35-17 loss to Notre Dame.
The Irish defense held Stanford to 61 yards rushing, including
just 2 yards in the second half.
Stanford coach Buddy Teevens said the two turnovers late in the
third quarter were too much for the Cardinal to overcome. "All of
a sudden, you're almost out of the ballgame,'' he said.
Watson's score was the fourth of the season by the Notre Dame
defense. The Irish offense has eight touchdowns and Notre Dame's
special teams have scored twice.
"We've been having great defensive plays all year,'' Willingham
The momentum began to swing Notre Dame's way when defensive
tackle Darrell Campbell sacked Stanford quarterback Chris Lewis at
the Stanford 3-yard line for an 11-yard loss. The Irish scored
their first touchdown on their next possession.
"I think that's what really separated the game,'' Willingham
said. "There was a surge of energy everywhere.''
Notre Dame had a season-high 249 yards rushing, and Powers-Neal
gained 108 on 13 carries. Ryan Grant, who scored on a 1-yard run in
the fourth quarter, finished with 103 on 18 carries.
The rushing game took some pressure off Irish quarterback Pat
Dillingham, a former walk-on making his first start because of a
shoulder injury to Carlyle Holiday.
"A QB's best friend is the run game,'' Dillingham said.
Dillingham played steadily and didn't make a lot of mistakes. He
made a few bad throws, including one interception, and had a fumble
that Notre Dame recovered. He played well, enough, however.
"I think what they asked him to do was play within his
strengths. They didn't ask him to make big plays,'' Teevens said.
Dillingham, who grew up five minutes from Stanford, was 14-of-27
for 129 yards. Holiday, who injured his shoulder two weeks ago
against Michigan State, warmed up before the game and appeared to
be moving with no signs of pain, but he never got in the game.
Lewis, who struggled against Arizona State last week, was
20-of-42 for 209 yards with three interceptions.
"Turnovers really killed us,'' Teevens said.
The Irish overcame three missed field goals and 10 penalties,
including one that wiped out a 92-yard punt return by Vontez Duff.
That penalty also kept alive Stanford's lone scoring drive, as
Lewis connected with Teyo Johnson on a 14-yard TD.
Stanford players lined up to talk with their former coach and
assistants after the game.
"It was hard to see them this way after a loss,'' Stanford
running back Kerry Carter said.
Willingham said he encouraged his ex-players.
"What I would say to them is to pick it up as they go through
the year,'' he said.
Asked whether he thinks Notre Dame is one of the nation's best
teams, Willingham said he doesn't think about that.
"All I want to be is the team that plays the best on the next
Saturday afternoon. That's all I want.''
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