Senior Day was special early Saturday evening, as the Irish players got to enjoy a victory for the first time at home since that win over Army, when Quinn and McKnight were suited up. It didn't matter that a few freshmen stole the show in Notre Dame's (2-9) 28-7 victory over Duke (1-10).
The players playing in their final home game have been a huge part of Notre Dame going from mediocrity to two-straight Bowl Championship Series appearances. However this season, it was the senior's holding the Irish together during tough times, still coming to practice to work on a daily basis, and playing with high effort on Saturdays.
It just might have been the students that helped the seniors keep it together. So well after the game ended, fifth-year senior tight end John Carlson, who caught a nine-yard touchdown pass on his last reception ever at home, was pulling players out of the tunnel to go back out and continue celebrating with the students.
"It's kind of our way to show some thanks to them," Carlson said. "I feel like they've stuck behind us all year long and we really appreciate that. It really makes a difference. It's been a really tough year, but had they (the students) turned on us, it could have been even harder. But I never felt we lost their support. And like I said, that means a lot."
Saturday meant a lot to the several walk-ons who got to play for their first and only time, as head coach Charlie Weis was able to clear the bench late in the game.
Darrin Bragg, a scholarship quarterback from San Jose Calif., got a couple snaps late in the game, and after lining up in the victory formation, did a barrel roll across the Notre Dame Stadium turf following the game's final snap. A memory that the former receiver will likely carry with him forever. Tyrone Willingham recruited him as a quarterback, Weis moved him to receiver, and at one point this summer Bragg left the team. But he came back when Weis asked him to, following the transfer of signal-caller Zach Frazer. And he finally got his Notre Dame moment.
"The bottom line is these guys have gone through a couple of coaches and a lot of ups and downs, and I think that is was really, really important for me and for our team to let these guys walk off this field (Saturday) with a win," Weis said. "It was really important. More important than people realize because this was, it's not just the fact that they are 0-6 at home going into this game. It's the fact that this is the last game ever in the stadium and sometimes you don't understand the magnitude of that statement and I'm really happy for those guys."
Laws had six tackles and a sack, celebrating that quarterback hit with the same fiery passion he's shown all year. Laws has had an All-American type season, making 105 tackles. He is eight behind Steve Niehaus for the most stops by a front-four linemen in program history.
During this tough season, Laws has come into the interview room looking as dejected as a human could possibly look. Sometimes his tie hung very low, and on another occasion he changed into Notre Dame sweats instead of a suit. Yesterday he wore a big contagious smile.
"Just fighters," Laws stated about his classmates. "We never gave up. This year might not have gone the way we wanted to go, but every practice we went hard, every game we played our butt off. All of these guys, we gave it our all every single game."
Laws joked that he thought he was going to play running back when Zbikowski entered the game at quarterback late in the game. That moment alone drew the loudest ovation from the student section, and was icing on the cake of a phenomenal day.
Carlson and Laws jumped into the student section after the game. The seniors got to enjoy one final victory lap, and sing the school song with grins on their faces.
"It ranks right up there up there with one of my better moments at school, that‘s for sure." fifth-year senior Joe Brockington said. His seven tackles led the Irish.
"It was a rough season but you always remember your last game, and you know, especially the last game at home," Zbikowski said. His 290 career tackles ranks first all-time among defensive backs in program history, and tied for 11th overall.
"And then the next week, like we've been saying all week, we're just going to get back to work, watch film tomorrow and get back to work Tuesday and try to beat Stanford."
A final chance for this senior class to add a few more good memories.