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Irish start fall of unbeatens

The BCS picture is a lot less murky after losses by Notre Dame, Georgia, Virginia Tech, N.C. State.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 3, 2002

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame pushed its luck too far.

After seeing a stadium full of green "Return to Glory" T-shirts this season, the Fighting Irish decided this weekend to join the party. It was not a good idea.

Wearing green jerseys at home for the first time in 17 years, No. 4 Notre Dame fumbled away a perfect season with a 14-7 loss to Boston College, becoming the first of four unbeaten Top 10 teams to fall Saturday.

After the Irish's loss, No. 10 North Carolina State, No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 5 Georgia saw their hopes of reaching the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl, the national title game, dashed.

-- Georgia Tech scored twice in the fourth quarter to beat the Wolfpack 24-17.

-- Pittsburgh rallied from 21-7, scoring a touchdown with 4:11 left to beat the Hokies 28-21.

-- The Bulldogs lost No. 12 of 13 meetings with Florida, falling 20-13 and failing to clinch SEC East.

Coach Tyrone Willingham thought the green jerseys would inspire Notre Dame.

"I thought it was a good way to encourage our fans in our sea of green we have been talking about," Willingham said after his first loss at Notre Dame. "It's important, because it talks about an attitude, about the Notre Dame family coming together as one."

Instead, the Fighting Irish fell apart, and the green jerseys ended up motivating the Golden Eagles.

"It felt like they didn't respect us at all," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "They thought they could come out and do anything; they didn't have to prepare the way they did other games."

The Irish lost three of seven fumbles, and backup Pat Dillingham threw two interceptions. One was returned 71 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Jason Ott.

Notre Dame entered confident it had returned to its glory years after a big win Oct. 26 at Florida State. But the Irish gave the ball away all day, and the Eagles took advantage, scoring both TDs courtesy of first-half turnovers.

Notre Dame held BC to 184 yards and nine first downs, but the Irish could not overcome their mistakes. Dillingham replaced Carlyle Holiday for the second quarter when the starter went out feeling "woozy" after a hit.

The loss conjured memories of the 1993 season, when unbeaten Notre Dame defeated Florida State and became No. 1, then lost the next week to Boston College in the final game of the regular season.

The Irish were having their best season since 1993 before running into the Eagles, who ended a 23-game regular-season losing streak against Top 25 teams. It was BC's first win over a Top 10 team since beating No. 8 Notre Dame in 1994.

While Notre Dame was on the verge of knocking Miami out of the No. 2 spot in the Bowl Championship Series poll, it likely eliminated itself from national title contention.

Derrick Knight, who finished with 129 yards on 26 carries, ran 3 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, five plays after Ott recovered a fumble by tailback Ryan Grant.

The clincher came when Dillingham threw a shovel pass to Ott, who caught the ball in stride and ran untouched for the score with 4:03 left in the first half.

Notre Dame, with an offense ranked 109th among 117 I-A teams, finally scored with 2:25 left when Holiday threw a 20-yard pass to Maurice Stovall.

The Irish did not try an onside kick but got the ball back at their 24 with 12 seconds left. After a holding penalty knocked eight seconds off the clock, Holiday's desperation pass was batted down at the BC 37 as the Eagles rushed the field and celebrated.

Several players tore chunks of grass from the end zone, as they did after a win 1999. The Irish lost the last time they wore green: 35-28 to Georgia Tech in the '99 Gator Bowl. The last time Notre Dame wore green at home was Oct. 26, 1985, when players changed from blue to green at halftime of a 37-3 win over Southern Cal.

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