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Notre Dame Football

Coan-do attitude: Notre Dame rallies behind gritty QB

September 11, 2021

The turnover battle had been lost, and it seemed for all the world that Notre Dame's prodigious 24-game home winning streak likewise was destined to be destroyed.

In a hero moment, the kind Hollywood might script for a young man in his first-ever home game as quarterback of the Fighting Irish inside Notre Dame Stadium, Jack Coan had an different outcome in mind.

Even as his team faced a 75-yard field and five-point deficit, a mere 95 ticks left on the clock.

So Coan dialed up a perfectly placed toss down the right sideline to Kevin Austin Jr. – which turned into a better catch than throw, and some 35 yards later, the Irish were into Toledo territory.

A 5-yard pass to Michael Mayer, followed by consecutive defensive penalties against the Rockets, left Notre Dame with the ball first-and-10 at Toledo's 18, game clock hovering around 75 seconds and sun setting, clock ticking along to 5:45 p.m.

Coan dropped back, saw Mayer break into the seam unscathed and fired a touchdown pass right into lore.

Some gadgetry on the two-point conversion – Avery Davis took the ball from Coan, scrambled and then lofted an easy pass to Kyren Williams – sealed the scoring.

Irish 32, Rockets 29. Home winning streak, 25 games.

“Jack's just a great character kid,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who climbed within two wins of matching Knute Rockne's all-time record at the school. “He just wants to win.”

The game, largely, was a mishmash of errors and unrecognized opportunities that had even left Notre Dame in dire need of a comeback – one somewhat reminiscent of the come-from-behind win it engineered two years against Virginia Tech to keep alive its home winning streak.

Toledo forced Notre Dame into three turnovers, and the Rockets didn't commit a single give-away until the game's waning seconds, when their offense was in desperation mode.

The Irish likewise again looked anemic running the football; they finished with 132 yards on the ground – just 3.4 yards-per-carry and also saw Williams fumble away possession inside the final three minutes as Notre Dame appeared on the cusp of putting away its visitors.

“You know, I'm pleased we won the game but there's just so much work that needs to be done with this football team,” Kelly said postgame on TV. “I love the way that they fought in the second half, we got down late and they kept playing. We got a great drive at the end and made some plays.

“We've got to coach better. We've got to play better. We've got to execute better. We're still trying to find ourselves, as you can see, offensively. We're running in a couple quarterbacks. We stub our toe on defense and give up big plays. That's just not who we are. Lot of work to do. It's nice to be able to find a way to win.

“I think they probably outplayed us today, and we made a play at the end that got us the win.”

Notre Dame started fast, as Coan led the Irish on a 75-yard march that lapsed just two minutes, 15 seconds off the clock and culminated in the first of Coan's two scoring connections to Mayer.

The Irish then got a spark and a touchdown drive from true freshman signal-caller Tyler Buchner, inserted in part because of the offense's grounded running game.

In this afternoon of storybook moments, all Buchner did on his first-ever series leading the Irish offense was march the team 96 yards, with his arm and legs, in a drive punctuated by Williams' 43-yard scoring dash through the middle and up the right sideline.

Buchner delivered the next touchdown, moments in the fourth quarter, when Chris Tyree slipped out of the backfield and hauled in Buchner's swing pass and raced down the left sideline into the end zone.

The Irish's 24-16 lead wasn't comfortable long. The Rockets got back-to-back touchdowns on Bryan Koback's eight-yard run and Dequan Finn's 26-yard run around left end on third-and-1 catapulted the Rockets on top, 29-24.

That set the stage for Coan's game-winning drive – his second in as many starts as the Notre Dame quarterback.

The Coan-to-Mayer 18-yard game-winner capped a three-play, 75-yard drive that kept the Irish perfect early and winners of 17-consecutive regular-season games.

“I think this was a good game for us, in a sense that we're going to be able to learn from this and we're going to make sure that … I think it was kind of an eye-opening game,” said linebacker JD Bertrand. “It was bittersweet. I think we're going to be able to take it from here, and identify like, 'OK, we need to get better.' I think every guy in that room knows they need to look at their own play individually and look where they can get better and we'll go from there.”

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