Final drive, final play not enough for ND

As it often has for the Notre Dame football team in 2009 — in four straight previous games, a loss and three wins — it came down to one play.

The Fighting Irish trailed 34-14 in the fourth quarter on Saturday against USC. They stormed back with a pair of touchdowns and drove inside the 5 yard line for a potential tie or win, but it just wasn't meant to be, as USC escaped with a 34-27 victory.

"Anyone who doesn't realize the fight that's in the Fighting Irish is missing the boat," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. His team had won three consecutive late-game contests coming into the rivalry matchup between the 25th-ranked Irish (4-2) and the sixth-ranked Trojans (5-1).

With one second left on the clock, Notre Dame's offense lined up four yards from the end zone. Top receiver Golden Tate split right, with Kyle Rudolph wide left and Duval Kamara in the slot. Weis said Tate's defender had safety help, so the play was to go left.

It did, but Kamara appeared to lose his footing as Jimmy Clausen's throw fell incomplete.

"Duval's coming open and falls down or slips coming out of the break," Weis said.

And the final rally fell just short.

"When you're living on the edge it's not going to turn out great every time," Weis said.

Clausen ran for a 2-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to make it 34-20 (the extra point was blocked), and after an interception by Gary Gray, Clausen hit Tate for a 15-yard score.

The Irish got the ball back and drove the length of the field from their own 17, but ran out of time on a drive that started with 4:18 left.

On first and goal Rudolph caught a tipped pass in the end zone on the right sideline, but the ruling on the field and replay was incomplete. A second-down pass to Tate was incomplete,and as the game clock ran out, USC fans started celebrating. But the officials ruled that one second still remained.

The final play of the game came on third down.

"Unfortunately we made it real dramatic and fun, but luckily we won," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

USC built its lead behind an explosive passing game. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Anthony McCoy caught five passes for 153 yards, and Damian Williams had 108 yards and both scores.

USC found holes in the secondary on the way to its first touchdown, a theme that would repeat itself. Barkley hit McCoy for 35 yards, Williams for 22 and then Williams again for a 20-yard touchdown.

The Irish bounced back later in the first quarter with a beautifully executed fake field goal. Holder Eric Maust, the backup punter and a pitcher on Notre Dame's baseball team, gunned the ball to wide-open receiver Robby Parris on the right sideline. Parris was knocked out of bounds on the 2, and Robert Hughes bulled his way for a touchdown on the next play from a direct snap.

USC managed a pair of field goals in the second quarter, but the Irish had to be happy to only trail 13-7 at the break, following a choppy first two quarters.

Clausen threw for only 47 yards in the first half. Though sacked five times and facing pressure often, he finished with 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 45-yard bomb to Tate in the third quarter that pulled Notre Dame to within 20-14. Tate finished with 117 yards on eight receptions.

Injured star receiver Michael Floyd could be seen in Irish pregame warmups drills wearing pads, but continues to sit out with a broken clavicle. Parris stepped in to make a number of big catches, finishing with nine for 92 yards. He might have been in the slot on the final play, but was injured by a late hit on the last drive.


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