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Notre Dame Football

Howard Cross III: 'When it mattered, we made the stop.'

October 1, 2023

It’s not often a defensive tackle is the leading tackler in a college football game, but Howard Cross III did just that as No. 11 Notre Dame (5-1) escaped No. 17 Duke (4-1) 21-14 on Saturday night. 

Cross led the Fighting Irish with 13 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and forced two fumbles, including one with 31 seconds left on the clock that linebacker Marist Liufau pounced on to seal the win. 

“There’s really no other feeling like it,” Cross said of his sack and forced fumble of Riley Leonard to end the game. “It’s what every guy at my position chases. That feeling of everyone looking at you and making everyone so proud of what you’ve done.

“It was a stunt. I couldn’t have done what I did without the rest of the guys on the line.” 

The 6-foot, 288-pounder likely played the most amount of snap among Notre Dame’s defensive linemen and never lacked effort, which was something head coach Marcus Freeman emphasized during the week. 

“Howard Cross played relentless,” stated Freeman, “We didn't roll as many defensive linemen last week. I challenged those guys. If you’re going to be in there, we have to have relentless effort. We gotta keep rolling guys and keep them fresh. Howard had a really good game.” 

Michael Jordan had his flu game in the playoffs and Cross put forth a similar effort as the New Jersey native was under the weather entering the game. 

Cross played to the standard of Notre Dame, but also his father, who is a Super Bowl champion. 

“I’m not going to touch anything,” laughed Cross. “I have a really bad sinus infection, so I have no idea. There were three or four plays where I couldn’t breathe. I don't know what’s going on. I just kept going. My dad was in the stands and he says keep moving if you want to feel better - run it out.”

The life lesson paid off as Cross not only finished the game for Notre Dame, but he led the hot start by the Irish defense, which paved the way to a 10-0 halftime lead. 

In the first half, Notre Dame held Duke to just 131 total yards, including 15 carries for 38 yards. 

It got dicey in the second half as Leonard and the Duke offense found some rhythm, but it’s something Notre Dame was prepared for and it didn’t phase them in the final quarter. 

In total, Notre Dame’s defense held Leonard to just 12-of-27 (44%) for 134 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Leonard did find room to run in the second half, including two runs that made up 54 of his 88 rushing yards. 

“It was a game,” Cross explained. “They’re doing great this season. They’re a great team. It’s not shocking that it’s that close. Every good team has a chance to beat the other team. If you’re playing another good team, it comes down to who makes the least amount of mistakes.” 

And a week after the defense failed to stop Ohio State late in the game, the Irish got two key stops and it can serve as a foundation for the second half of the 2023 campaign. 

“It’s everything,” said Cross. “That’s how great defenses are made. When the chips are down and you don't know what’s going to happen, what are you going to do with the hand you have? We went out and played our hearts out. When it mattered, we made the stop.” 

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