Saturday, September 10, 2005

Wolverine Flashback | by Jay


By Gordon S. White, Jr., Special to the New York Times
Sept. 20, 1980

Harry Oliver, a left-footed placekicker from Cincinnati, became one of the biggest heroes in recent Notre Dame football today when he booted a 51-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Fighting Irish a 29-27 victory over Michigan .

The kick, only 2 yards short of the Notre Dame field-goal distance record, was just barely strong enough to get the ball over the cross bar, clearing it by about 6 inches. This turned the fretting hometown fans in the capacity crowd of 59,075 at Notre Dame Stadium into a screaming, leaping, dancing mob that rushed onto the field to celebrate another of the school's amazing comebacks under Coach Dan Devine.

In one of the wildest endings in Notre Dame history, each team scored a touchdown during the final 3 minutes 3 seconds to take the lead. First it was Notre Dame's Phil Carter who scored his second touchdown of the game for a 26-21 lead that seemed to cap a valiant comeback effort. Then Michigan scored with 41 seconds to go on a 1-yard touchdown pass from John Wangler to Craig Dunaway, and when a 2-point conversion attempt failed, the Wolverines led by 27-26.

Kiel Connects With Hunter

Then Devine, coaching his final season at Notre Dame, sent in a freshman quarterback, Blair Kiel, for his first test under fire in college football. Starting at his 20, Kiel worked out of the shotgun formation. On his first pass Michigan was guilty of pass interference so that the Irish got the ball at the Wolverine 48.

But then Kiel, down to his last chance on fourth down and 1 at the Michigan 39, completed a pass to Tony Hunter, who stepped out of bounds at the 34 with four seconds left.

This stopped the clock and Devine had to send in Oliver, a junior who had never before been so severely tested. ''This is by far the greatest moment of my life,'' Oliver said afterward. ''Getting a scholarship to Notre Dame is a close second. I have to thank God. He had to be with me.''

Devine said, ''I've never seen Oliver kick one that far but it went through today and that's all I care about.'' Oliver, who had missed an extra-point attempt in the third quarter that would have tied the score at 21-21, said, ''I wanted to make sure my toe was pointed in the right direction on the field goal because it wasn't that way on the extra point. I didn't know it was good because someone had jumped on me and I was on the ground.''

Devine had gone most of the way at quarterback with Mike Courey, the senior who led Notre Dame to its opening victory over Purdue two weeks ago. But the coach said he decided to replace Courey with the freshman, Kiel, for the final desperate drive because Kiel had a stronger passing arm.

The last-second triumph was compared with Notre Dame's 35-34 triumph over Houston in the 1979 Cotton Bowl game when the Irish tied the score on a touchdown as time ran out. Then Joe Unis had to boot the winning extra point two times because Notre Dame was penalized on the first good kick.

Now Notre Dame has a surprising 2-0 record after what were considered to be two of its four most difficult games on this year's schedule. The Irish beat Purdue two weeks ago in the season opener, 31-10.

Irish Take 14-0 Lead

Devine-coached teams have given Irish fans other exciting finishes in his six years. There was a 1-point victory over South Carolina a year ago on a 2-point conversion, also after time ran out. There were comeback triumphs over North Carolina and Air Force in 1975 and over Clemson in 1977, the year Notre Dame went on to the national championship.

Today's game started with Notre Dame looking as if it would make it a runaway. With Carter sparking the ground attack and Courey directing the offense in studied, playbook fashion, the Irish drove 70 yards in 16 plays for their first touchdown. Carter, the fine sophomore tailback who picked up 103 yards, scored on a 6-yard run through a huge hole on the left side.

The next time Notre Dame got the ball Courey took the Irish 61 yards in 11 plays for a score, throwing a 10-yard pass to Pete Holohan for the second touchdown. Oliver booted both extra points, so Notre Dame led, 14-0, with only five minutes left in the first half.

Wangler Takes Over

Then suddenly the Wolverines from the Big Ten Conference struck back, scoring two touchdowns in the last 2 minutes 50 seconds of the half.

Coach Bo Schembechler of Michigan had started Rich Hewlett, a sophomore, at quarterback. But Hewlett had difficulty getting Michigan off dead center and even bungled three plays. So after Notre Dame went up by 14-0, Schembechler resorted to his senior quarterback, Wangler, and this seemed to spark the Wolverines.

Wangler led Michigan on a 68-yard march for a touchdown that was registered on an 8-yard pass play to his tailback, Larry Ricks. Seconds later, one of Courey's long passes was intercepted by Marion Body of Michigan, who ran the ball 20 yards to the Irish 27.

Again Wangler did the job quickly and efficiently - in four plays. The last one was a 10-yard touchdown pass to a tight end, Norm Betts, that led to a 14-14 tie at halftime.

Michigan kept it up at the outset of the second half. Anthony Carter returned Notre Dame's kickoff 67 yards to the Irish 31 to start the third quarter. Five plays later, Stan Edwards ran the ball over and when Ali Haji-Sheikh kicked his third extra point of the day, Michigan led by 21-14.

Irish Go Ahead, 26-21

Time and hope began to run out on Notre Dame even though John Krimm, a junior Notre Dame cornerback, intercepted one of Michigan's passes and ran it back 49 yards for a touchdown late in the third period. It was then that Oliver missed the extra point.

Notre Dame began to regain some hope when a tricky end-round pass play, with Hunter throwing to Holohan, was good for 31 yards at the beginning of a drive late in the fourth period. Courey kept the team moving and finally the Irish scored when Carter went in from the 4 with 3:03 left on the clock. A 2-point pass failed and Notre Dame led, 26-21.

But Michigan had plenty left and went 78 yards in 11 plays for the touchdown that seemed to end Notre Dame's chances. Butch Woolfolk, another Wolverine tailback, gained 37 yards on a draw play in that march to get the ball to the Irish 4. Three plays later Wangler tossed a pass to Woolfolk, who did not catch the ball. Instead, it popped in the air and Dunaway, the deep receiver on the play, fell forward and managed to catch the ball just before it touched the ground.

On the 2-point conversion attempt, Michigan was stopped, clearing the way for the frantic finish by the Irish.

(To listen to Tony Roberts' call of Harry Oliver's kick, click here.)