Michigan holds off Notre Dame

Notre Dame loses first regular-season game since 2011
Michigan holds off Notre Dame

There were a lot of witnesses when Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner put his team in jeopardy with a late interception that Notre Dame turned into a touchdown. Some 115,109 saw it — the largest crowd in college football history.

But those same folks also watched Gardner lead the Wolverines down the field in the closing minutes and throw his fourth touchdown pass of the night to allow Michigan to put the Fighting Irish away 41-30 in just the second night game in the history of Michigan Stadium.

“That was a costly interception, and I’m just happy that we came out after that and finished the game the right way,” Gardner said. “We work all the time on finishing, and tonight it paid off.”

The Wolverines got a dynamic three-touchdown performance from wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and two interceptions by Blake Countess to help the cause. Gallon had eight receptions for 184 yards in the best performance of his career.

“Our kids hung in there,” Michigan coach Brad Hoke said about the Wolverines turning back the Irish. “We signed up to play 60 minutes, and we played 60 minutes.”

Notre Dame, which lost its first regular season game since 2011, was making its final visit to Michigan Stadium, since the series is ending after next year’s meeting in South Bend. The Irish never led in the game, and found themselves down by two touchdowns at the half.

“Getting off to a quick start is important, especially against a team as talented as Michigan,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “It seemed like we were working from behind all night.”

Michigan led 27-13 at the half and maintained that margin as the game moved into the fourth quarter, but with about 12 minutes left a huge turnover shifted the momentum in Notre Dame’s favor.

As Gardner was backpedaling in his end zone against an intense rush, he tried to throw the ball away, but his weak lob was intercepted for a touchdown by Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt. That cut Michigan’s lead to 34-27.

A stalled drive and a poor punt put the Fighting Irish right back to work near midfield, and after a 40-yard field goal from Kyle Brindza, Notre Dame was down just 34-30 with more than nine minutes left.

Needing a score for some breathing room, Michigan, aided by two third-down pass interference calls on the Irish, got a touchdown on a short pass from Gardner to Drew Dileo for a 41-30 margin with about four minutes left.

“We just came up just short on some key plays,” Kelly said.

Notre Dame’s hopes ended when Countess intercepted Tommy Rees in the end zone with less than two minutes to play.

“We knew it would be a battle back-and-forth between two great teams,” Countess said, “but nothing can explain how good it feels to get this victory.”

Despite the two-touchdown halftime deficit, the Irish did not panic, sticking to their plan and methodically grinding out a 90-yard scoring drive, with Rees hitting tight end Troy Niklas with a 20-yard TD pass to pull Notre Dame within 27-20 with about five minutes left in the third quarter.

Gallon’s third touchdown catch late in the third quarter made it a 34-20 Michigan advantage, but Gardner’s ill-advised throw soon followed and the game quickly got tighter.

Michigan picked its way inside the Notre Dame 30-yard line early in the game and Brendan Gibbons nailed a 44-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. The Wolverines used the big play to stretch the lead to 10-0 as Gardner found Gallon over the middle in Irish territory. Gallon spun out of a tackle and raced 61 yards for a touchdown.

Notre Dame quickly answered with a long drive orchestrated by Rees, who hit TJ Jones in the back of the end zone for the score from 4 yards. Brindza’s extra point pulled the Irish within 10-7.

Brindza tied it with a 44-yard field goal early in the second quarter, but Gardner connected on four passes before scoring on a short option run and Michigan went back on top 17-10.

The lead was cut to 17-13 by a 24-yard Brindza field goal with five minutes left in the half, but Gardner quickly broke a 35-yard run to get Michigan back down the field. From there, Gibbons kicked a 38-yard field goal for a 20-13 lead.

Gardner finished 21-of-33 for 294 yards and the four touchdowns, and rushed 13 times for 82 yards and another score.

“Gardner can do a lot of things back there,” Kelley said. “He can throw it, he’s tall, he’s athletic, and he runs the ball very well.”

A Countess interception and 29-yard return set up the Wolverines at the ND 23 and Gardner hit Gallon with a 12-yard scoring pass to give Michigan a 27-13 lead at the half.

NOTES: Gibbons’ 15th straight field goal early in the game set a Michigan record. … Notre Dame and Michigan have won 20 national championships between them, 11 by the Fighting Irish and nine by the Wolverines. … Gardner wore the number 98 in honor of Tom Harmon, who in 1940 was Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner. … Notre Dame’s defense entered the game with just 14 rushing touchdowns allowed in its last 31 games, best in the nation.