"I thought the crowd was infectious today," Weis said. "It was a beautiful day out there. There were over 40,000 people. I'm not saying it was like a game. But it wasn't a scrimmage. It was a great showcase for the program."
Officially, the crowd at Notre Dame Stadium was announced at 41,279, breaking the record of just over 35,000 set back in 1981 in Gerry Faust's first spring game. As for the contest, Carl Gioia atoned for two earlier misses by nailing a chip shot with no time remaining to give the Blue team a 10-7 win over the Gold. For the ultra-prepared man that Weis is, even he wasn't anticipating overtime.
"I'm glad we kicked that field goal because I didn't know what I was going to do with overtime," Weis said. "I didn't say too much during the game but there I said, ‘Center the ball and kick the field goal.' We had missed a couple and I'm sure everyone was saying, ‘Please go through so get out of here.'"
The Gold team, comprised of the second team offense and the first team defense, trailed 7-0 before the heroics of Travis Thomas. The senior running back from Washington, PA took a handoff up the middle and then cut back to the left, finding a wide open field good for a 83-yard touchdown to tie the contest up at 7. Thomas, who earned Offensive MVP honors, led all rushers in the contest with 104 yards on just eight carries and he was extremely descriptive in recalling the scoring romp.
"It was an inside zone," Thomas said of the play. "I just saw daylight. Two of our linemen doubled up on the Mike and the safeties had rotated to the right. There was nobody to the backside. I hit the crease and tried to take it all the way. It was pretty tiring but I made it."
Brady Quinn and the Blue team had the final answer. After another gorgeous punt from Geoff Price, Quinn and the first-team offense got the ball at their own 21-yard line facing the first-team defense. It was the Jeff Samardzija and Darius Walker show as the group marched down the field into field goal range. Samardzija caught a 22-yard completion from Quinn down to the Gold 34-yard line.
After getting nailed by Derek Landri for a loss of five yards, Walker tallied the next 31 yards catching and running the ball to set up Gioia for a 19-yard field goal. Walker ended the all-purpose day with 13 carries for 78 yards and five receptions for 42 yards. The senior place kicker from Valparaiso, IN had missed two earlier kicks from 33 and 44 yards but hit this one to give the game to the Blue team. The real winner, according to Weis, was that the excitement and eagerness for the contest was back.
"When I went to school, it always felt like a festive event," Weis said of the Blue-Gold game. "It always felt like this today. I think we've had to work hard to create that atmosphere again. Go to that baseball game last night. There were 3500 people there. All the monogram winners came back, over 600 of them. It's nice to have this many people feel like part of the program because we understand, as coaches and a team, that we're just a part of this whole thing."
A big positive for Weis was the play of the defensive line. All spring long, he's challenged the group, in public and private, to get a better pass rush on the quarterback. Some of them might have been listening. Trevor Laws was named the game's Defensive MVP after recording six tackles and two sacks. Derrell Hand and Justin Brown also recorded sacks. After the contest, Weis was pleased with their progress.
"If we didn't double team (Victor) Abiamiri, he would have been in the backfield all day long," Weis said. "Obviously Trevor got the MVP with the penetration he got there. I thought that first line was creating a lot of havoc in there."
Quinn and the offense got off to a sluggish start. A trick play turned disastrous when Samardzija took a reverse and tried to heave a bomb to Rhema McKnight. One problem: it was into triple coverage and intercepted by Ambrose Wooden. But two possessions later, "The Shark" would make amends. He caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Quinn on a streak down the right sideline to give the Blue a 7-0 second quarter lead. Samardzija caught five balls for 93 yards on Saturday while Quinn was his usually efficient self, going 16-of-25 for 181 yards. The Heisman candidate admitted that the slow start caused the offense to change their approach.
"We didn't do exactly what we wanted to do on offense," Quinn said. "I think we were trying to work the ball around and do some different things. We started off slow and we didn't pick things up. So we went into a two-minute mentality for awhile."