ARLINGTON, TX. - Notre Dame came to Texas in need of a signature win, and it found one Saturday night at AT&T Stadium with a 37-34 win over Arizona State. The Irish (4-2) yielded their share of points and a few big plays to Arizona State (3-2), but did enough to come away victorious in the end.
The Irish missed a shot to take an early lead when Kyle Brindza missed a 38-yard field goal at the end of the game's opening drive. The drive still consumed 13 plays and 8:08 on the game clock. Despite not scoring, the drive was still Notre Dame's longest of the season.
The teams deadlocked after a quarter of play, but the Sun Devils began picking-up their offensive tempo as the frame came to a close. They would score the first points of the game on a 40-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal to cap a 12-play, 58-yard drive.
Gonzalez hit a 27-yard field with 6:11 to play in the first half to make it 6-0 Sun Devils. The kick capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive that followed a Notre Dame punt after the Irish had driven to the ASU 38.
The two teams then went into punch, counter-punch mode for the rest of the half.
Notre Dame's first score of the first half gave the Irish their first lead of the game after a crisp seven-play, 72-yard drive that took just two and a half minutes. Tommy Rees completed it with a 19-yard touchdown strike to a wide open Ben Koyack. It was the first reception of the season for the junior tight end and it gave the Irish a 7-6 lead.
Arizona State gambled and won big on fourth down on the next drive when Taylor Kelly hit wide receiver Jaelen Strong with a 36-yard touchdown pass. The Sun Devils faced 4th and four on the play that saw Kelly take the snap just before the 25-second play clock expired. He hit Strong, who was covered closely by safety Austin Collinsworth, in stride in the end zone for the score to make it 13-7 ASU.
Not to be outdone, Rees marched the Irish 71 yards in just eight plays and one minute and 15 seconds for another touchdown and another lead. Rees capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown to T.J. Jones. Jones's 14th career touchdown came with just 10 seconds left in the half to give Notre Dame a 14-13 halftime advantage. Rees completed passes of 23 and 35 yards during the march to the end zone.
The Notre Dame defense forced an Arizona State punt on the opening possession of the second half to keep momentum going the Irish way. Kyle Brindza connected on a career-long 53-yard field goal six plays later to make it 17-13 Irish lead. The kick ties Dave Reeve (1976) for the longest field goal in school history.
The Irish forced two more punts and then forced the first turnover of the game when Dan Fox recovered a fumble by Strong. Rees hit Troy Niklas two plays later for a 21-yard touchdown and a 24-13 Irish lead with 3:54 on the clock in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began with a big play for Arizona State. The Irish faced 3rd and 10 at their own 25 when Rees dropped back to pass. Rees looked to his left and tried to hit DaVaris Daniels for what would have been a first down. Instead, Osahan Irabor yanked it away from Daniels for the interception and then cut across the field for a 37-yard touchdown return. The score cut Notre Dame's lead to 24-20.
Notre Dame responded by taking 4:03 off the clock en-route to a 33-yard by Brindza to back up 27-20 with 10:38 remaining. The play of the drive was a 29-yard run by Cam McDaniel, who immediately headed to the sideline afterward after butting heads with an Arizona State defender.
The Fighting Irish defense had looked downright dominant for most of the second half, but two plays on Arizona State's next possession undid all that. ASU faced 3rd and 20 from its own 39 when Kelly hit Kevin Ozjer for a 30-yard completion to the Irish 31. Kelly hit De'Marieya Nelson for a 21-yard TD strike three plays later to tie the game at 27-27 with 8:18 left in regulation.
The Irish answered again, this time with a 25-yard field goal by Brindza to go back up 30-27. Notre Dame was able to take 5:08 off the clock on the 56-yard drive thanks in part to five consecutive runs by McDaniel. The Texas native gained 28 yards on the ground on the drive, but he was stuffed for a four-yard loss on 2nd and goal at the four. Rees was incomplete on the next play to force the kick.
Arizona State went more backward than forward after that. Prince Shembo sacked Kelly for a loss of 10 on first down, Grice gained a modest seven yards on second down, pressure by Stephon Tuitt forced a Kelly incompletion on third down and then Matthias Farley intercepted Kelly's 4th and 13 pass.
The Irish tried to run out the clock after getting the ball back at the 50, but ASU used a pair of timeouts and ND gained just a yard on three plays before being forced to punt. That kick was downed at the one by Farley though and that's where the Sun Devils started their last drive with 1:16 to play.
Dan Fox stepped in front of Kelly's pass attempt from the end zone and then the linebacker bolted and leaped into the end zone for a 14-yard pick six. Fox's first career interception gave his team a 37-27 lead at 1:08 to play.
Kelly and the Sun Devils were not through though. They needed just 57 seconds to sweep down field for another touchdown - a 15-yard pass from Kelly to Marion Grice to make it just 37-34 Irish with 11 seconds remaining. T.J. Jones recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt to seal the victory.