NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Sheldon Day needed help.
In the immediate aftermath of Notre Dame’s 28-7 victory over Wake Forest, Day wanted to give one of his gloves to a stadium police officer that had watched the defensive lineman grow on nearly two dozen Saturdays here. But Day couldn’t get the tape off his left hand, finally finding some scissors to free that equipment turned souvenir.
“I had to give back,” Day said. “I think he’s been here a long time.”
Day said the officer wanted the glove for his daughter. Now cop, kid and defensive lineman will all have something to remember Saturday, a home finale when Notre Dame made history even without scoring style points.
This senior class finished 21-4 in Notre Dame Stadium, which means no group has won more here. They tied the classes of 1990 (21-2) and 1991 (21-3) in home successes. Not bad for a haul seemingly ripped apart by transfers, dismissals and departures. A class of 17 on National Signing Day four years ago closed with just a dozen on Saturday.
“I’ve always told this group, we’re a small group but we pack a big punch with all the guys we have,” said offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. “All the guys that are in our class, we never took a blink when kids transferred or had to leave school for different reasons. We just kept our heads down, kept working. We knew we’d end up where we are today.”
Notre Dame (9-1) remains in the College Football Playoff chase because it beat Wake Forest (3-6), not because it put on a show in doing it. And that’s fine on a day when Oklahoma State and TCU almost lost to opponents on the Demon Deacons’ level.
Wake Forest held Notre Dame to season lows in plays (49), yardage (282) and time of possession (24:12) yet never seriously threatened after falling down 21-0 by halftime. A couple big plays got Notre Dame up to stay in Andrew Trumbetti’s 28-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the first quarter and Josh Adams’ 98-yard scoring run early in the second.
Adams’ score was the longest play in Notre Dame football history, the longest run by a freshman in FBS history and the longest play in the FBS this season. And it made sure the Demon Deacons, which finished with just 340 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per play, never put any game pressure on the Irish.
Adams, who finished with 17 carries for 141 yards, started in place of C.J. Prosise, held out after last weekend’s concussion at Pittsburgh.
Head coach Brian Kelly said he expects Prosise back for Boston College. The Irish also went without defensive tackle Daniel Cage, receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and tight end Nic Weishar due to injuries. Linebacker James Onwualu was lost to an MCL injury in the first half.
The injuries, particularly on offense, hurt the Irish effort.
“It was a little off,” said quarterback DeShone Kizer. “We’re the type of team, we strive and we try to go out and get some explosive plays. There wasn’t any explosive plays other than that (Adams) run. Typically those happen a little more often.”
Kizer finished 13-of-19 for 111 yards, barely half of his previous season-low (207 yards passing against UMass). The sophomore did rush for Notre Dame’s first and last touchdowns. That final score came four minutes into the fourth quarter and pushed the Irish ahead by the final margin.
“I thought he did OK,” Kelly said. “The one thing that DeShone does is when the moment is big, he rises to it. We needed that drive in the fourth quarter.”
The Irish defense delivered too as Jaylon Smith matched his season-high with 14 tackles while Joe Schmidt did the same with 10. Day posted a couple tackles for loss while Romeo Okwara posted a career-high three sacks.
Three of those four definitely played their final games in Notre Dame Stadium while Smith probably did too. He didn’t address that prospect when asked.
“Honestly, we’re having so much success this year, this is the only thing that’s on my mind,” Smith said. “We have a chance to win a national championship. It’s something all my focus needs to be on.”
That means two more regular season games, with Notre Dame headed to Fenway Park next weekend for the Shamrock Series against Boston College. The season-finale at Stanford will follow. Win both and the Irish have a solid shot to make the College Football Playoff for the first time.
And that could be the real legacy of Notre Dame’s senior class.