Oct 28, 2012, 6:32 AM EDT
Behind the leadership of their seniors, and the poise of their talented young quarterback, the Fighting Irish stunned the college football nation on Saturday night – defeating the Oklahoma Sooners on their home turf, 30-13, to remain unbeaten and improve to 8-0 for the first time in a decade.
Bloggers, analysts, experts. Seemingly no one picked Notre Dame to go into Norman and walk out with a win. Heck, even the people in Vegas weren’t putting their money on the luck of the Irish (Despite being ranked higher, Notre Dame was a double-digit underdog).
ESPN sent College GameDay to Norman. The game was played in primetime and broadcast on ABC. It was a special intersectional matchup between two of the sport’s historic powers. From Irish fans to Irish critics, everyone knew this game would reveal the true identity of Brian Kelly‘s team.
Not this time. Not with a first-year quarterback. Not against Oklahoma’s explosive offense. Not in Big Game Bob’s house, where the Sooners were 79-4 with Stoops at the helm.
But it was mid-afternoon when it struck me. Tonight was destined to be different. Eight years earlier on Oct. 27, my Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. I just had a good feeling about the Irish.
And as Notre Dame has proven time and time again, there is something different – something special about 2012. There should no longer be a doubt in anyone’s mind (not even yours, Mr. Reilly) – the Irish are back.
The students arrived early and the videoboard showed historic OU highlights. The Sooner Schooner drove onto the field and the pre-game atmosphere was unlike any I’ve seen. But when the game began, it didn’t take long for Notre Dame and its impressive caravan of Irish fans to quiet a record-setting Oklahoma Memorial Stadium crowd.
After the Irish defense surrendered a field goal, Cierre Wood rattled off the best run of his college career, a 62-yard dash up the middle to give Notre Dame a 7-3 lead. Though the Sooners would rally to later tie the game at 13, the first Irish touchdown set the tone, and ND never really looked back.
The Fighting Irish have played in Dublin, at Soldier Field, and in night games at Michigan State and home against Michigan. But in 2012, the spotlight on Notre Dame and its best player has never been brighter than it was against the Sooners.
And when it mattered most, Manti Te’o and his Fighting Irish brothers came through with arguably the program’s biggest victory since 1993.
When the Irish defense finally allowed a rushing touchdown, the Sooners tied the score, and it seemed as though the game might slip away, Everett Golson responded with the biggest play of his young career, a 50-yard bomb to freshman Chris Brown. Five plays later, Golson’s one-yard touchdown run put the Irish up for good.
With 11 tackles, Te’o surpassed 400-mark for his college career. In a jarring hit on Landry Jones, he registered his first sack of the season, and late in the game, intercepted a pass to help seal the victory. If the senior linebacker is not deserving of serious Heisman Trophy consideration, I don’t know who is.
After the game, Te’o spoke with Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit in a live spot for ESPN.
During my time with Fighting Irish Digital Media, I’ve been privileged to see a lot of memorable Notre Dame moments. And somehow, throughout the 2012 football season, each seems to be more special than the one before it. Michigan State. Michigan. Stanford. Oklahoma.
The Fighting Irish are back. They’re growing up before our eyes, they’re silencing the doubters and they’re proving they belong in the conversation with the best college football programs in the country.
Eight games. Eight victories.
The dream season continues.
And the best may be yet to come.
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