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Notre Dame Football

Nole to be denied: Notre Dame withstands FSU rally, wins in OT

September 5, 2021

Easy? Nobody said easy.

Certainly, Notre Dame did not make anything easy.

Jonathan Doerer simply made it look that way with a 41-yard, overtime field-goal attempt before 68,316 screaming fans Sunday night inside Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium.

Doerer's triple was true, and consensus preseason top-10 Notre Dame outlasted the upset-minded Seminoles, 41-38, on the road.

“I'm in favor of execution,” ND coach Brian Kelly said, “and maybe our entire team needs to be executed after tonight.

“We just didn't execute real well, and I will say this: Florida State played extremely well. We've got some work to do. I like our team. I like our players. I love their commitment, the way they fought. We're gritty, but we've got a lot of work to do. It's nice to go back and do the work after a win.”

Doerer's second field goal of the night – he earlier converted from 48 yards – made a winner of the Irish (1-0) and ensured they wouldn't suffer the misery of blowing an entire 18-point, fourth-quarter lead in a loss that would have been just the third of the Kelly era in an opening game.

Offensively, the Irish leaned on their skill players – most notably quarterback Jack Coan and his deft passing – and overcame a brutal second-half effort from their defense as well as a game-long struggle to run the ball from the offense.

In his Irish debut, the Wisconsin-graduate transfer Coan absolutely dissected the Seminoles on 26-for-35 passing for 366 yards, four touchdowns and the lone turnover a desperation heave on the final play of regulation.

Coan matched the program's all-time record for passing touchdowns in a season-opening tilt, equaling the quad-packs generated by previous signal-callers Ron Powlus and Jimmy Clausen, while he also distributed the ball to six different receivers, five of whom had multiple catches.

Overtime seemed a distant thought midway through the third quarter, as Notre Dame seized command.

Having rallied for a 17-14 halftime edge on the strength of Coan's scoring tosses to Michael Mayer and Joe Wilkins, as well as Doerer's first triple, the Irish then threatened to blow open the game with a 21-6 scoring advantage in the third.

Notre Dame engineered third-quarter scoring tosses from Coan to both Kevin Austin Jr. and Kyren Williams, before Chris Tyree plunged in from a yard out for Notre Dame's only ground score and a 38-20 lead.

At that point, there was less than 20 minutes left in regulation – but that was too much for the Seminoles.

In a furious rally led first by Jordan Travis at quarterback and in a rally that included the return to college football of quarterback McKenzie Milton, the former UCF standout signal-caller whose career was nearly ended in November 2018 with a devastating injury, and their possession of the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead with less than five minutes to play.

“I told the guys, winning's hard,” Kelly said. “They've won a lot. They've worked really hard. I'm going to take a really good look at this critically and to take the next step forward, they know we've gotta clean up.”

Notre Dame won the coin toss in the overtime session, elected to defer possession and then stymied the Seminoles in a three-and-out. But not without controversy.

Milton fumbled on third down, and in the process lost a dozen yards. FSU called timeout and challenged the ruling of a fumble.

Video replay showed Milton tuck in the ball and then lose it to the turf; officials, however, overturned the on-field call. They moved up the ball and set up Ryan Fitzgerald for a 38-yard, go-ahead kick.

On Florida State's own “Bobby Bowden Night,” Fitzgerald missed wide left.

Four snaps later, Doerer did not.

It made Notre Dame a winner after it surrendered 442 yards’ offense to the Seminoles in the debut of ND defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and tallied 436 yards of its own, though just 65 on the ground.

“I mean, defense was like, 'We're here because of us,” safety Kyle Hamilton, responsible for two of the three picks the Irish defense recorded, said. “Let's leave because of us. Ultimately it was all JD, Jonathan Doerer.

“We got a stop when we needed. Our coaches always say, one play, one life.”

It's a short shelf-life for this win and this week for Notre Dame. The Irish were flying home late Sunday night into Monday morning, and they host Toledo Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (Peacock Streaming Network) in their home opener inside Notre Dame Stadium.

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