Leo Ferrine's 16-yard interception return on the first play of the second half gave the Irish an insurmountable lead and helped Notre Dame to a 34-10 win over the Orange. Brady Quinn threw another two touchdowns, set the single season record for most career passing yards and became the first Irish quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards in one season. Notre Dame improved to 8-2 on the season and are one game away from a possible BCS Bowl berth, a dream to only the diehard fans three months back. It was also a win for the seniors who were stepping out onto the home turf for the last time.
"I was happy," Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said. "After we got off to a slow start offensively, I was concerned that we ever get to that point. When you sit that and lay at bed at night and envision how you like things to work out, there are different phases you go through. Obviously, the thing you have to do is actually winning the game. It was important. I'm never one on scores getting out of whack. Obviously, I would like them not to score at the end of the game but at the same time I had an ethical responsibility to our seniors to get them involved in the game. I'm happy we were able to do that."
Every single senior played in the game. Weis put in a defense mainly composed of seniors midway through the fourth quarter. The group did a victory lap around the stadium to thank the fans and also to let the fans thank them. Head coach Charlie Weis watched his players bask in the spotlight.
"I enjoyed just standing back," Weis said. "I tried to stand back behind it because I didn't want to miss what was happening myself. I wanted to pull myself back and look at it from more of a fan's perspective because I didn't feel this was my time. Too many times, the head coach and the quarterback are the ones that get most of the pub pro or con. I just wanted to pull back and let it be their time. After they won that game, they could have done anything they wanted not to get me too upset."
Coming into the game, one of the storylines was the struggles the Syracuse offense was experiencing. The unit was ranked in the 100's in scoring and total yards. The Orange did not do anything to boost these staggering low statistics. A stretch of eight possessions between the first and third quarters saw Syracuse not pick up a single first down. The Notre Dame defense only allowed 221 yards of total offense and piled up 12 tackles for loss. Starting quarterback Perry Patterson was a dismal 9-of-22 for 78 passing yards. Irish fifth-year senior Corey Mays, playing in his last home game, had a monster day with 10 tackles, including 3.5 TFL's and two sacks.
"It's frustrating," Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson said of him watching his offense. "It's frustrating because you want it to happen. You want to see it start to go. I thought we had a little something going there in the first quarter and then we went blank."
The play of the game occurred right after halftime. The Orange, down 14-3, received the opening kickoff at their own 20 but shot themselves in the foot. Patterson threw in the flat to Breyone Evans but the 6-0, 230 pound fullback bobbled it and fell to the ground. The ball flew up in the air and right into the arms of Ferrine, who easily ran into the end zone for a 21-3 Notre Dame lead. It was Ferrine's first interception and touchdown of his career, who was in the game for an injured Mike Richardson.
In the fourth quarter, a 12-yard completion from Quinn to Samardzija broke Ron Powlus's career mark of 7602 passing yards. For the day, the junior quarterback was 21-of-27 for 270 yards and no interceptions to continue his steady play. A few D.J. Fitzpatrick field goals in the second half and a Darius Walker three-yard touchdown run added to the final margin of victory for the Irish. Walker had his second straight game of over the century mark, finishing with 26 carries for 123 yards. Fitzpatrick was hurt in the fourth quarter when an Orange defender flew into his leg on a made field goal but Weis said after the game that he was fine. Joe Kowaleski caught an 18-yard pass from Patterson late in the contest for Syracuse's only touchdown of the game.
A sluggish first quarter saw Notre Dame not convert two field goals and fall behind 3-0 on John Barker's 31-yard field goal. Fitzpatrick was wide left on a 39-yard attempt and had another one blocked by the Orange's Steve Gregory a minute into the second quarter. It was the first time all year that the Irish had not scored in the first 15 minutes of a game.
As they've done all year long, Notre Dame found their groove in the second quarter. Coming into the game, they had outscored their opponents 131-26 in the 15-minute session. They did not disappoint again. A Chase Anastasio block of a punt put the Irish in great field position at the Orange's 36. Three plays later, Quinn lofted a 25-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Stovall. The 6-5 senior outjumped a Syracuse defender for his 10th score of the year. Stovall hauled in three balls for 91 yards (30 yards a catch).
Not to be outdone, fellow wide receiver Jeff Samardzija got into the action a few minutes later. More great field position for Notre Dame, a constant all afternoon, set up a 29-yard catch-and-run by the Samardzija for a 14-3 Notre Dame lead. It was the junior's 13th touchdown grab of the year, extending his own single season record. Samardzija was the Irish's leading receiver with seven catches for 80 yards.
"I feel like their first touchdown was a good throw and a good pass," Robinson said. "They guy just bodied him out. It was just two good players connecting on us. The second touchdown, it was a well-designed play. I give them credit for that. They ran a play and took advantage of us. There were a lot of good things those defensive kids did. They were fighting tooth and nail but that's a fine offensive football team over there."