HONOLULU, HI — The fireworks that erupted from the parking lot outside Aloha Stadium perfectly encapsulated Notre Dame's offense in its 49-21 win over Hawai'i in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl Wednesday, the team's first bowl win since 1994.
They were short, staccato bursts. A stream of light, then bang. Over and over.
A 14-yard pass to receiver David Grimes in double coverage in the corner of the end zone. Bang. A 69-yard bomb to receiver Golden Tate. Bang. Running back Armando Allen's 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Big bang.
"We were clicking tonight," Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "It felt real good."
The Irish ended their 14-year bowl losing streak, dating back to the 1994 Cotton Bowl.
"I'm glad that we got the monkey off our back, and that we were the team that did it," senior defensive tackle Patrick Kuntz said.
After starting 4-1, Notre Dame (7-6) ended the season 1-4, including a loss to Syracuse at home on senior day and a 38-3 drubbing from USC. The Irish looked like a different team against the Warriors (7-7), putting up 478 yards of total offense and holding a potent Hawai'i offense to two touchdowns until their backups entered the game.
"The defense showed up, and the offense showed up, and everybody showed up today," Kuntz said.
Clausen ignited most of Notre Dame's offense, throwing five touchdown passes and completing 22-of-26 passes for 401 yards.
"He's gonna be a Heisman Trophy guy," Warriors coach Greg McMackin said.
Tate finished with six catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, also both Notre Dame bowl records.
Irish coach Charlie Weis called the game from the press box because a shot he took for pain in his knee prevented him from walking.
Notre Dame had its share of big plays. Safety David Bruton intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble, the Irish partially blocked a punt, Allen ran back the kick and the Irish finished with eight sacks, two of them from freshman defensive tackle Ethan Johnson.
"I had a great time, I made a few plays, hopefully it will carry over to next year," Johnson said."
Notre Dame scored first, on a 10-play, 87-yard drive that featured two big plays and a lot of running from Robert Hughes. After Tate broke a long reception to give Notre Dame first-and-goal from the three, Hughes dove left for the touchdown to give Notre Dame a 7-0 lead.
Hughes finished with 55 yards on 17 carries. Weis said Hughes got the majority of the carries because Allen was coming off an ankle injury and James Aldridge hurt his shoulder during the game.
Notre Dame's defense held Hawai'i in check on its next two possessions, forcing two three-and-outs. Irish nickel back Sergio Brown partially blocked a Warrior punt, but the Irish could not capitalize.
By pinning the Warriors on their own 22-yard line, the Irish assured themselves of good field position. They made use of it, driving 53 yards for the score. Grimes separated himself from his defender and snagged the pass with his left hand in the right side of the end zone to give Notre Dame a 14-0 lead.
Warriors quarterback Greg Alexander led Hawai'i right back with both his arm and feet. He found wide receiver Aaron Bain over the middle for 19 yards, then scrambled for 15 to give Hawai'i 1st-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Notre Dame blitzed, but Alexander threw to the open spot and found Bain covered only by Bruton. Bain skirted Bruton and dove in for the touchdown to pull Hawai'i within 14-7.
Too close for comfort, apparently, because the Irish scored three plays later. On a play-action pass on first down, Clausen lofted a long pass to Tate down the left sideline for a 69-yard touchdown pass. The play was the longest from scrimmage for Notre Dame this season.
Tate, who shared the game's MVP award with Clausen, said the play was an audible. "Jimmy has great vision," he said.
McMackin said he run-blitzed on the play, but Clausen saw it and adjusted.
"We should have Omaha'd out of it, but he was too quick," McMackin said.
Hawai'i started to drive, but after it crossed midfield, Bruton intercepted a squirrely pass from Alexander.
That interception led to a 9-play, 67-yard scoring drive, but the touchdown took some work. A 28-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph gave Notre Dame first-and-goal on the five, but two botched run plays later it was third down on the 18-yard line. Clausen play-faked and hit Tate over two defenders in the corner of the end zone for his second touchdown of the half. Tate had 137 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the first half.
Clausen and the offense resumed their success in the start of the second half. A sack from Darius Fleming forced a Hawaii three-and-out, and Notre Dame drove 88 yards for its fifth touchdown of the game. Clausen hit Allen on a screen to the right side, and Allen scooted behind a block from right guard Chris Stewart for 41 yards. Clausen threw the same pass three plays later and Allen had an 18-yard touchdown to give the Irish a 35-7 lead.
Another Warriors turnover led to more Irish points. Bain caught a pass, but fumbled, and Bruton recovered on the 50. On 3rd-and-21, Tate streaked down the right sideline past his man and Clausen threw him a perfect pass in the end zone to take a 42-7 lead.
Alexander led the Warriors on a scoring drive, culminating in a 21-yard touchdown pass to Bain, but to no avail. Allen ran the ensuing kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown to make the score 49-14 with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter.
"We talk about it all the time in meetings, and that was the one thing we really wanted to accomplish this year," Allen said of the kick return. "Unfortunately we had to come to Hawai'i to accomplish that goal, but I can't complain."
Hawai'i scored with 1:45 remaining against Notre Dame's second-team defense, but it was just for show, and the Irish had given their coach all he wanted for Christmas — a win.
"I told them it's the only thing I want," Weis said. "Players ask, 'What are you getting us for Christmas?' I told them, a flight home."