Notre Dame empty after 24-21 win

January 02, 1994|By Joseph Tybor | Joseph Tybor,Chicago Tribune

DALLAS -- When it was over yesterday, Aaron Taylor and Pete Bercich, the two who have led Notre Dame on and off the field, posed for a snapshot with index fingers in the air signifying the No. 1 salute.

They each smiled, but it was a posed, polite grin, not that wild, crazy, uncontrollable kind with the arm thrust upward showing there is absolutely no doubt who is No. 1.

Yes, the Irish won the game they had to, rallying to beat Texas A&M, 24-21, in the Cotton Bowl on Kevin Pendergast's 31-yard field goal with 1:38 to play.

But what should have been such a delight for an overachieving Notre Dame team was a bittersweet victory. In the back of their minds was what could have been.

Sure, the Irish came back in exciting fashion.

Bercich earned a bit of redemption for his dropped interception against Boston College with a fourth-quarter pick of A&M quarterback Corey Pullig, one of several big plays the Irish defense made late.

After a lackadaisical first half in which the Aggies pounded the Irish, they returned to the Notre Dame power game to wipe out a 14-7 halftime deficit with third-quarter drives of 51 and 65 yards.

Bobby Taylor blocked a field-goal attempt in the first half, which proved to be the margin of victory, and another fellow Texan, Michael Miller, set up the winning field goal with a 38-yard punt return with less than four minutes left.

When the final gun sounded, it could have been a time for another wild celebration marking Notre Dame's 12th national championship, more than any other team in college football.

Instead, it was a time of uncertainty, at best, and probably disappointment.

Instead of engaging in mad celebration, the Irish, like everyone else who wanted to know on New Year's night, had to return to their televisions to find out who might be national champion.

The Irish made their pitch as best they could.

Lou Holtz repeated the 1989 scenario when 12-1 Notre Dame played six teams in the Top 10 and beat No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl. The only Irish loss, however, was to Miami. Writers and coaches crowned the 11-1 Hurricanes the national champions because of the head-to-head competition.

Notre Dame got the scenario it needed last night. Both undefeated teams, Nebraska and West Virginia, were beaten, and Florida State's victory over Nebraska wasn't assured until the final second.

It that scenario occurred, Notre Dame said before last night's games, it should be national champion today when the final poll results are announced. At least, it shouldn't be Florida State, they reasoned, whom the Irish beat, 31-24.

"We went 11-1," Holtz said. "If everyone uses head-to-head competition as the first tiebreaker, we beat the only other team up for the national championship that has a loss.

"If you use the same scenario as in 1989, I expect the same scenario in 1993."

Bercich made the argument, too, in a plaintive kind of way.

"It was a bittersweet win tonight, he said. "We had the national championship and we lost it when we lost to Boston College. But Florida State got a second chance; why can't we?"

Aaron Taylor wasn't ready to shortchange the accomplishments.

"We had a chance to win the national championship and we let that go," he said, "but it was a great scenario coming off the last game we had against Boston College. The defense came out, bailed us out. Jeff Burris had a great hit. Pete Bercich had a great interception.

"It was a total team effort and what a great way to end it. If we are lucky enough to get the national championship, that's great, but if we don't, I don't think anyone will walk away with too many regrets."

Texas A&M .7 7 7 0 -- 21

Notre Dame 7 0 14 3 -- 24

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