Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Irish lock up bowl bid with solid win

NCAA DIVISION I-A No. 8 Notre Dame broke open a close game in the fourth quarter to defeat Tennessee 41-21 to improve to 6-2 and assure a postseason berth

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SOUTH BEND, INDIANA,

Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano makes a catch in front of Tennessee's Kevin Simon to pick up 25 yards during the third quarter in South Bend, Indiana, Saturday. The eight-ranked Fighting Irish defeated the Volunteers 41-21.

PHOTO: AP

Notre Dame's Fighting Irish wanted to proclaim its revival -- its return to the hierarchy of college football -- when it signed coach Charlie Weis to a 10-year contract extension last week.

Then on Saturday, Notre Dame defeated Tennessee 41-21 to improve to 6-2 and make itself eligible for a bowl and still eligible for one of the six coveted Bowl Championship Series games.

The Irish will be favored to win their last three games, at home against Navy and Syracuse and at Stanford. If No. 1 Southern California and No. 2 Texas remain undefeated and meet in the Rose Bowl, and if the Irish have nine victories and finish at least No. 12 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, Notre Dame is likely to be invited to the Fiesta Bowl.

"We should be in the BCS; we're good enough to be in the BCS," Irish defensive tackle Trevor Laws said. "If we're not in the BCS, I'll be disappointed."

Mike Allen, a representative of the Fiesta Bowl, had no comment about picking the Irish, but other bowl representatives at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday said it was doubtful that the Fiesta would pass on Notre Dame. The Fiesta has a tie-in with the Big 12, and if the bowl loses Texas to the national championship game at the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta would have first rights.

Notre Dame looked as if it might get cooled off, however, by a Tennessee team (3-5) reeling from three consecutive defeats. The Vols, down by 21-3, rallied to tie the score at 21-21 with 1 minute 37 seconds left in the third quarter.

But Notre Dame, which had gone seven possessions without scoring, erupted for 20 points in the fourth quarter.

The big play was a third-and-10 pass from Notre Dame's 25-yard line late in the third quarter. Wide receiver Jeff Samardzija, who caught seven passes for 127 yards, came across the middle running left to right and caught a short pass from Quinn.

When a defender slipped and fell, Samardzija turned the corner and raced down the sideline to the Tennessee 2 yard line for a 73-yard play.

"All the momentum swung back our way on that one play," Weis said.

Two plays later from the 4-yard line, Quinn threw a quick pass to Samardzija for the go-ahead touchdown with 13:57 left in the game.

Samardzija and Quinn made the clutch play of the game, but the biggest star of the game for the Irish was the junior safety Tom Zbikowski, who returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and returned an interception 33 yards for another touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Quinn completed 20 of 33 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns, but he found himself under pressure from the Vols for much of the second and third quarters and was sacked three times.

The Irish revived themselves in time to turn the game into a late rout, as their throng of fans cheered wildly at the final score and a chance to go to a bowl once again.

After the game, a crowd of fans gathered 10 rows deep and pressed up against a wrought-iron fence outside the locker room just trying to get a glimpse of the team's stars, Quinn, Zbikowski and linebacker Corey Mays, among others.

There is also special devotion for Weis, the former NFL assistant coach and Notre Dame alumnus. University officials acted quickly on Weis' popularity and gave him a 10-year contract extension last week.

Penn State 35, Wisconsin 14

Penn State took the Big Ten lead and put itself in position to appear in a major bowl game by taking a big early lead on Saturday and weathering a Wisconsin comeback for a 35-14 victory.

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