PHILADELPHIA – Will Fuller exited Lincoln Financial Field just short of midnight, blowing a kiss to the Notre Dame fans lining the tunnel to the Irish locker room.
The junior receiver had broken Temple’s heart in the most predictable way, a 17-yard touchdown catch from DeShone Kizer with barely two minutes remaining, good for the 24-20 final in front of a record crowd of 69,280.
No. 9 Notre Dame (7-1) is nothing if not resilient. And that resiliency against No. 21 Temple (7-1) was nothing without Fuller and Kizer, the receiver-quarterback combination where the spectacular is now ordinary.
“Philly guy, born and raised to go out on top like that, it shows how poised he is, how great a player he is,” said linebacker Jaylon Smith. “We’re lucky to have him.”
Fuller’s homecoming, which included fulfilling more than 100 ticket requests, keeps Notre Dame alive in the College Football Playoff chase even after this sometimes maddening Halloween night.
Kizer threw two interceptions in the red zone. Temple stoned running back C.J. Prosise, holding him to 14 carries for 25 yards. Head coach Brian Kelly went after assistant strength coach David Grimes on the sidelines and needed to be held back by Paul Longo. Safety Elijah Shumate got ejected for targeting. The defense let the Owls mount two fourth quarter scoring drives that put upstart Temple in front via Austin Jones’ 36-yard field goal with less than five minutes remaining.
All Notre Dame needed from there was a red-shirt freshman quarterback to lead his third fourth quarter comeback this season. Of course it ended with Fuller, even if Kizer audibled into that game-winning play.
“I didn’t think their safety was respecting Will over the top and we were able to fit one close,” Kizer said. “I didn’t expect to be in that situation, I was just going to throw a basic comeback and they gave us Cover 2 and I knew exactly where to go with the ball.”
That was straight to Fuller down the right sideline, that safety not coming close to Notre Dame’s most dynamic weapon. The moment capped a wild night for Kizer too. He accounted for all three Irish touchdowns, including a 79-yard run off the zone read in the second quarter.
That sprint was the second-longest run by a quarterback in Irish history.
Kizer finished with 143 yards rushing and two touchdowns to go with 23-of-36 passing for 299 yards, that Fuller touchdown and a couple picks in the second quarter. Those turnovers denied Notre Dame a chance to put Temple away by halftime or at least pin the Owls down. Instead, the picks made Temple believe it could shock Notre Dame and stay perfect.
“I knew that those were gonna probably put us in a position where it was gonna be a dog fight in the second half,” Kelly said. “If we just come up with three points each time, if the worst we do is kick the football, probably feel a lot better about our situation.
“You can’t go down there twice and come up with no points. We did overcome both of those turnovers, but they’re very alarming when you have those.”
Temple gambled that Kizer couldn’t win the game for Notre Dame and lost the wager, although it made the quarterback work for it by taking Prosise away. The Owls front mixed up its run defense, leaving the Irish line uncertain about what was coming before it did. Kizer admitted that he struggled to read the Owls front.
Of Prosise’s first seven runs, four were thrown for losses.
“They did give us a lot of different looks. They did try to slow C.J. down,” said offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. “We definitely overcame and we definitely tried to maneuver around those different looks.”
Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich tormented Notre Dame with a game-high 13 tackles and a pick of Kizer just before halftime. The middle linebacker even made two tackles of C.J. Sanders on punt returns. Yet for all his production, the Irish still rolled up 467 yards total offense and averaged 7.0 yards per play.
It might not have seemed like it based on the fourth quarter, but Temple ended with just 295 yards of total offense. The Owls rushing attack finished with 107 yards, nearly half of which came on two runs.
“We felt like we should have been able to pull away. There were a few plays we didn’t make,” said cornerback KeiVarae Russell, whose fourth quarter pick removed most drama from the final minutes. “We expected them to play hard, but we should have pulled away.”
Notre Dame didn’t until the final minute, building on the program’s identity where Fuller can always strike and Kizer can always find him. Little went exactly to plan here, but the final score and the final touchdown did.