The 90s: Not all Game Winners are Created EqualNotre Dame kickers fared better in game-ending situations than you might have guessed in the 90s…but the impact of the field goals that felled the Irish still reverberate.
- 1990: Craig Fayak hit a 34-yard game winner with four seconds remaining as No. 18 Penn State upset No. 1 ranked Notre Dame, 24-21 on Senior Day in South Bend. A decade of frustrating, game-ending boots kicked off to an ignominious start for Irish fans.
- 1991: Senior Day strikes again: The No. 5-ranked Irish blew a 31-7 late 2nd Quarter lead but regrouped for a final drive to the Tennessee 10-yard line. Backup walk-on kicker Rob Leonard, pressed into service due to a knee injury suffered by the reliable Craig Hentrich at the end of the 1st half (on a blocked field goal touchdown by the Vols), saw his 27-yard offering hit the derriere of an offensive linemen and Notre Dame's meek national title hopes are shattered once again in South Bend.
- 1992: No game-winning kicks for either the Irish or their opponents.
- 1993: Senior Day III: Boston College kicker (who shall remain nameless) temporarily weakens a nation with a season-killing, 42-yard knuckleball that splits the uprights, ending Notre Dame's perfect season. Can't…type…more.
Walk-on kicker Kevin Pendergast nailed a 31-yard game-winner with 1:38 remaining to give the national-title hopeful Irish a 24-21 win over No. 7 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Florida State nonetheless wins the national title despite a head-to-head mid-November loss to the Irish because everyone still felt sorry for Bobby Bowden at this point in his career, but I digress…
- 1994: Just to switch up the Senior Day theme, Michigan kicker Remy Hamilton hits a 42-yard boot with two seconds remaining to give the No. 6 Wolverines a 26-24 win over No. 3 Notre Dame in the Irish home opener.
The Irish led 17-10 in the season-finale at No. 17 USC when walk-on Stefan Schroffner's 40-yard offering with just over five minutes remaining was blocked and returned to the Irish 16-yard line. The Trojans capitalized with a one-yard TD run to tie the game at 17 and the first disappointing regular season of the Holtz era fittingly came to a close with the teams deadlocked at 17. The tie snapped Notre Dame's 11-game winning streak over the Men of Troy.
- 1995: No game-winning kicks for either the Irish or their opponents.
- 1996: Jim Sanson saves face for Irish kickers in the 90s with a 39-yard beauty at the final gun to give No. 9 Notre Dame a 27-24 win at No. 6 Texas. The kick marked Sanson's season-long. Hook ‘Em. Barefoot Air Force kicker Dallas Thompson – he of the 50 percent accuracy entering the contest – beat the Irish twice in overtime (the first was called back due to penalty), eventually finishing off the Falcons upset of the No. 8 Irish, 20-17 in OT in South Bend.
In the season-finale in the LA Coliseum, the No. 10 Irish led 20-12 in Lou Holtz's final game with 3:52 remaining. Jim Sanson's potential game-sealing extra point sailed wide left, allowing the Trojans a chance to tie with a touchdown and two-point conversion. They did, and went on to win in overtime, 27-20 to end a 13-season winless streak to the gang from South Bend.
In the aftermath of the loss, the star-crossed Sanson stated: "I let the seniors down…I need to grow up."
- 1997: Sanson missed three of four field goals including a key 33-yard offering in the second half. USC kicker Adam Abrams one-upped his counterpart with a 37-yarder with 1:05 remaining in the 20-17 Trojans victory in South Bend. The Irish did not score in the second half.
In the season-finale at Hawaii, walk-on Scott Cengia connected on a 20-yarder to give the Irish a 23-22 victory with five seconds remaining.
- 1998: Now a senior, Sanson bounced back with two clutch kicks: the first, a game-winning 17-yard field goal vs. Drew Brees and Purdue as the Irish prevailed 31-30 in South Bend. Four weeks later, Sanson nailed a career-best 49-yard game winner with 1:06 left to hold off a poor Army team, 20-17, in front of an exasperated crowd in South Bend.
- 1999: The Irish mixed six PATs and 10 of 18 field goal attempts – though technically none in game-ending fashion. Stanford, however, ended another Irish regular season with a game-winning boot, this one from 22 yards out with 1:32 remaining for a 40-37 win by Tyrone Willingham and the Cardinal.
- 90s Final Tally: Five game-winning field goals for the Irish, three by Jim Sanson. Irish kickers missed just one technical game-winning field goal, though Sanson's botched PAT and Schroffner's blocked field goal near the five-minute mark, both of which would have sealed games late vs. USC, must be considered in the equation.
Opposing kickers were 6-6 in game-winning situations vs. the Irish in the 90s. Two of those boots greatly damaged Notre Dame's national championship hopes in home finales.
2000s: Fairly Even and Largely IrrelevantSaddled with multiple losses throughout the decade, and with the bulk of Notre Dame's best matchups determined by late touchdowns, the program's maligned kickers had far less lasting impact on Irish lore than decade's past.
- 2000: Nick Setta kicks off the decade in style for his position group, drilling a 38-yarder at the gun to upset No. 13 Purdue, 23-21 in South Bend.
Six weeks later, free safety Glenn Earl flips the script, blocking a chip-shot field goal by Air Force to send the contest to overtime. The Irish won 34-31 on a Joey Getherall run.
- 2001: No games decided by a game-winning kick for either the Irish or their opponents.
- 2002: No games decided by a game-winning kick for either the Irish or their opponents. (Admittedly odd in a season during which seven games were decided in the final period.)
- 2003: Setta strikes again, this time in overtime with a 40-yard field goal to send the Irish to victory over Washington State in the season-opener in South Bend. Seven weeks later, ND's 18-point road comeback is short-lived as Boston College kicker Sandro Sciortino hit a 26-yarder with 38 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a 27-25 win.
The Irish averted disaster in an otherwise dreary season, defeating Navy 27-24 at the final gun thanks to a 40-yard boot by D.J. Fitzpatrick.
- 2004: Fitzpatrick was saddled with a 55-yard potential game-winner vs. Boston College but the offering fell (well) short in BC's 24-23 comeback win in South Bend.
In a 90s flashback, Pittsburgh kicker Josh Cummings kicked a 32-yard field goal with one second remaining to give the Panthers a 41-38 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame in another Senior Day crusher in South Bend.
- 2005: No games decided by a game-winning kick for either the Irish or their opponents, though Fitzpatrick connected on a 44-yard go-ahead field goal in overtime vs. Michigan State. The Spartans responded with the game-winning touchdown.
- 2006: No games decided by a game-winning kick for either the Irish or their opponents. (Two games, MSU and UCLA, were decided by late Irish touchdowns.)
- 2007: No games decided by a game-winning kick for either the Irish or their opponents. Brandon Walker's potential game-winning 26-yarder in the 2nd overtime vs. Navy was matched by Midshipmen Joey Bullen and the contest was ultimately determined by a failed two-point conversion attempt by the Irish.
- 2008: Walker hit three potential game-winners in three overtime sessions vs. Pittsburgh (22, 26, and a career-best 48 yards). He then missed from 38 yards on his fourth extra-session boot and Panthers kicker Connor Lee did him one better, drilling kicks from 22, 32, 26, and finally 22 yards for the 33-30 4OT victory.
Walker had a shot at an Irish miracle but his 53-yard miss in frigid conditions fell well short in a 24-23 Senior Day upset win by Syracuse in South Bend. Walker had previously missed a 49-yarder short just five minutes prior and a 26-yard boot earlier in the contest.
- 2009: None, though the UConn game was nearly determined by the combatants kickers. Huskies place-kicker Dave Teggart missed a 37-yarder wide left at the end of regulation to allow overtime and Irish walk-on David Ruffer nailed a potential game-winner from 36 yards out in the first overtime to give ND a 30-27 lead. The Huskies ruined Senior Day in South Bend for the third time in six seasons with a game-ending touchdown to answer Ruffer's three-pointer.
- Decade Tally: The Irish connected on 3 of 5 game winning field goals in the decade (two by Nick Setta). Opponents hit 3 of 4 game-winning kicks (the miss was blocked by Earl in 2000).
In summation, final kicks (including two crucial blocks in the fourth-quarter and one killer missed PAT) helped provide the Irish with 18 wins vs. 19 losses over the last 30 seasons.
Sure feels worse, doesn't it?
Tomorrow: The Pre-Camp Assessment of sophomore kicker Nicholas Tausch.