St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Quick TD strikes keep Irish perfect

ND 31, STANFORD 7: Willingham is fourth Irish coach to open first season 5-0.

©Associated Press

October 6, 2002

ND 31, STANFORD 7: Willingham is fourth Irish coach to open first season 5-0.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- After looking inept and unimaginative for 36 minutes, Notre Dame found a way to win. Again.

The Fighting Irish kept their unbeaten season going, scoring 21 in a span of 3:13 late in the third to beat Stanford 31-7 Saturday.

It started with a pair of touchdowns 24 seconds apart as Rashon Powers-Neal scored on a 3-yard run and Shane Walton intercepted a pass -- his fifth in five games -- and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. Courtney Watson added a 34-yard interception return for a score 1:47 later as the Irish opened a 24-7 lead.

"Everything really seemed to come together," coach Tyrone Willingham said.

Willingham, who was Stanford's coach the past seven years, joins Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Jesse Harper as the only full-time Notre Dame coaches to open 5-0 in their first seasons.

Notre Dame matched its win total from last season, and Willingham has his longest winning streak since Stanford won its last five of the 1996 season.

Stanford (1-3) has its worst start since opening 1998 with one win in its first nine games. The Cardinal, who gave up 65 points in a loss to Arizona State last week, have given up 96 points in two weeks, its worst performance since allowing 98 in 1998 in a 63-28 loss to Oregon and 35-17 loss to Notre Dame.

The Irish held Stanford to 61 yards rushing, including 2 yards in the second half.

Coach Buddy Teevens said the two turnovers late in the third were too much to overcome.

"All of a sudden, you're almost out of the ballgame," he said.

Watson's score was the fourth of the season by the Notre Dame defense. The Irish offense has eight touchdowns and special teams have scored twice.

Darrell Campbell's sack of Stanford quarterback Chris Lewis at the Stanford 3 for an 11-yard loss sparked Notre Dame. The Irish scored their first touchdown on the next possession.

"I think that's what really separated the game," Willingham said. "There was a surge of energy everywhere. It adds to the spirit of Notre Dame," "

Notre Dame had a season-high 249 yards rushing, and Powers-Neal gained 108 on 13 carries. Ryan Grant, who scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth, finished with 103 on 18 carries.

The rushing game took some pressure off Irish quarterback Pat Dillingham, a former walk-on making his first start because of a shoulder injury to Carlyle Holiday.

Dillingham played steadily and did not make many mistakes. He made a few bad throws, including one interception, and had a fumble that Notre Dame recovered.

"I think what they asked him to do was play within his strengths. They didn't ask him to make big plays," Teevens said.

Dillingham, who grew up five minutes from Stanford, was 14-of-27 for 129 yards. Holiday, who injured his shoulder two weeks ago against Michigan State, warmed up before the game and appeared to be moving well, but he never played.

Lewis, who struggled against Arizona State last week, was 20-of-42 for 209 yards and three INTs.

Asked if he thinks Notre Dame is one of the nation's best teams, Willingham said he doesn't think about that.

"All I want to be is the team that plays the best on the next Saturday afternoon. That's all I want."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.