Thursday, January 2, 2003
North Carolina State won a school-record 11 games.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Notre Dame made incredible strides from last season, winning twice as many games and briefly entertaining thoughts of another national title.
It sure doesn't feel that way now.
North Carolina State whipped the Irish in the Gator Bowl, knocking their quarterback out of the game early, confusing them with formations that looked like fire drills and showing them how to end the season in style with a 28-6 victory.
While No. 11 Notre Dame was soundly beaten in its final two games of the season, the 17th-ranked Wolfpack (11-3) finished off its best season in school history by beating Florida State and Notre Dame, not allowing an offensive touchdown by either.
Stamp of success
"We had a great season, then we put a stamp on it," coach Chuck Amato said. "To have (victory) No. 11 be Notre Dame, to win back-to-back against Florida State and Notre Dame, two of the best programs in America ... It's hard to do."
It didn't look all that difficult Wednesday in the Gator Bowl.
Phillip Rivers completed 13 consecutive passes and guided the Wolfpack to three straight touchdowns, entertaining the sellout crowd with one gimmick after another. He finished 23-of-37 for 228 yards, while Jerricho Cotchery caught 10 passes for 127 yards.
The defense was just as spectacular.
Dantonio Burnette set the tone with a jarring hit against quarterback Carlyle Holiday that separated his shoulder and knocked him out of the game on Notre Dame's second possession.
Rod Johnson, a senior safety who had one interception in his career at N.C. State, intercepted three of backup Pat Dillingham's passes.
So much for that Irish mystique.
"It's still a very good season," said Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham, whose team was undefeated and ranked No. 4 two months ago before finishing 10-3.
"There are not that many 10-win teams in the country. At the same time, we have to become accustomed to winning our last game, whether it's the regular season or a bowl game. Championship teams win their last game."
This was no championship team.
The Irish were eager to prove their 44-13 loss to Southern California last month, in which they gave up a school-record 610 yards, was an aberration.
Instead, Rivers bobbed and weaved through the pass rush, finding open receivers and leading the Wolpack on drives that covered 96 and 76 yards as it seized control in a 21-point second quarter.
"Every game they show you something you haven't seen," Notre Dame safety Glenn Earl said. "They were able to get us off balance. And they executed well."
The Irish lost their sixth consecutive bowl game.
The Wolfpack had never won more than 10 games in a season in their 111-year history, and saw this game -- and this opponent -- as a chance to help put its program on the map.
"It seemed like we were the other team down here all week," Burnette said.