SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame has its signature win.
No more talk of 2005. No more talk of 1993. That all ended Saturday night in South Bend when No. 4 Notre Dame outlasted No. 1 Clemson, 47-40 in a double overtime, instant classic at Notre Dame Stadium. It was the first win over a top-five opponent for the Fighting Irish since 2005 and first win over a No. 1 team since 1993.
“For me, just watching our team handle themselves in the fourth quarter, handling themselves when there was adversity — as a coach, those are the special moments,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Yeah, we won the football game, and I’m certainly excited about that but more so when you watch your players exhibit resolve and exhibit grit and refuse to lose a football game against the No. 1 team in the country that hadn’t lost in 36 regular season games.”
Kyren Williams scored the game-winning touchdown to start the second overtime, plunging in from 3 yards out to put Notre Dame up seven.
The Irish defense then got pressure on Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei for the first time all night, recording back-to-back sacks in the second overtime. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Ade Ogundeji teamed up for the first one, while Daelin Hayes recorded the second sack.
A third-down pass from Uiagalelei was incomplete, setting up a fourth-and-24 to decide the game. Uiagalelei completed the pass to Braden Galloway, but he was tackled well short of the first-down marker. The game was over, and the Notre Dame students rushed onto the field to celebrate the victory.
“Our students were awesome,” Kelly said. “They made it feel like a true game, even though there was only less than 15,000 in the stadium. They did their best to give us that feeling, and when they stormed the field, you got a sense of a special moment at Notre Dame. I know our players did as well.”
The second overtime capped off one of the best regular season college football games in recent memory. The Irish and Tigers were tied at 26 mid-way through the fourth quarter when Clemson took its first lead. Running back Travis Etienne capped off a 12-play, 74-yard drive with a 3-yard run to make it 33-26 with 3:33 remaining.
Notre Dame turned it over on downs on its next possession, giving Clemson the ball with 2:10 remaining. The Irish defense was able to force a quick stop, in large part due to Etienne running out of bounds on a third down with 1:54 remaining. Clemson punted, giving Notre Dame the ball with 1:48 left.
“Quite frankly, they helped us by going out of bounds,” Kelly admitted after the game.
Needing to go 91 yards to tie, Irish quarterback Ian Book dialed up one of the biggest passes of his college career. On a first-and-10 from the 43-yard line, Book uncorked a 53-yard bomb to wide receiver Avery Davis, setting up an Irish first-and-goal at the Clemson 4-yard line.
Three plays later, Book connected with Davis again for the game-tying score with 22 seconds remaining. Jonathan Doerer booted the PAT, and the 11,011 in attendance erupted.
On the first play of the first overtime, Uiagalelei connected on a pass to Powell that put the Tigers at the 1-yard line. Uiagalelei ran it in on the next play to put Clemson ahead, 40-33.
The Irish countered with a four-play drive, finished off with Williams’ 3-yard run. Overtime rules gave the ball back to Notre Dame to start Overtime 2, leading to the sequence of events in the final period.
Notre Dame started the game as well as you could, as Williams darted 65 yards on the first official play from scrimmage to put the Irish up 7-0 less than 30 seconds into the game. Eight minutes later, Doerer added the first of his four field goals to make it a double-digit Notre Dame lead.
Clemson came right back, though, on an Uiagalelei 53-yard touchdown pass to Cornell Powell, making it a 10-7 contest late in the first quarter.
Uiagalelei was starting in place of Trevor Lawrence, who missed the game due to testing positive for COVID-19. The Tiger offense didn’t miss a beat with the true freshman, as he threw for 439 yards and two touchdowns.
The defensive play of the game came in the second quarter with the score at 13-10. Etienne took a pitch from Uiagalelei and bobbled it, and Owusu-Koramoah was right there to catch it. He ran the fumble back 23 yards for a touchdown, giving Notre Dame a 20-10 lead with 5:53 remaining in the first half.
Notre Dame led 23-13 at the half, but Clemson scored 10 points in the third quarter to tie it. The Irish regained the lead on a Doerer field goal with 11:37 remaining before another 10 unanswered points gave Clemson the lead, setting up the dramatics at the end.
Notre Dame is now 7-0 overall and 6-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They control their own destiny to make it to the ACC championship game for the first time in program history — in their only year in the conference. Kelly will try and rally his troops for a road game against Boston College next Saturday.
“We got so much more work to do,” Kelly said. “BC is going to be a challenge for us. I’ve got to get this football team back up, emotionally ready to play … we’ve got a target on our backs now.”