Backup Quarterback, Notre Dame Unable To Produce Winning Finish
Posted January 1, 2003
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Pat Dillingham couldn't write a Hollywood ending to his storybook season. Neither could Notre Dame.
The former walk-on had kept the Irish's turnaround season on track by leading a come-from-behind victory over Michigan State after starter Carlyle Holiday was injured. Dillingham also was the quarterback in the victory over Stanford a week later.
He couldn't bail Notre Dame out one more time.
The Irish offense was held without a touchdown for a second straight game in the 28-6 loss to North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl on Wednesday.
It marked the fourth time this season the 11th-ranked Irish (10-3) failed to score a touchdown on offense.
"We didn't do our job and put points on the board," said receiver Arnaz Battle, who caught 10 passes for 84 yards.
The game, like the Irish season, just seemed to unravel. It started coming apart against No. 17 North Carolina State (11-3) midway through the first quarter, when the Wolfpack stopped the Irish with a goal-line stand.
Battle caught a 12-yard pass from Holiday and was tackled on the 2-yard line. Ryan Grant ran for a yard on the next play.
Then, disaster for the Irish - Holiday was stopped for no gain on a quarterback keeper when he was hit hard by NCSU linebacker Dantonio Burnette. Holiday separated his left shoulder and didn't return.
Neither did the Notre Dame offense.
On Dillingham's first play, he handed off to Grant, who was tackled for a five-yard loss, so the Irish had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Nicholas Setta.
The Wolfpack scored on its next three possessions.
"We beat ourselves in the first half when we got down," said Dillingham, who was 19-of-37 for 166 yards with three interceptions. "It's hard when you don't really give yourself a chance to begin with."
Irish coach Tyrone Willingham didn't blame Notre Dame's problems on the injury to Holiday.
"We still had playmakers out there," Willingham said. "We still had opportunities that were there, but we could not make the plays."
The Irish, who managed to beat Maryland and Purdue to open the season without scoring a touchdown on offense, couldn't do it the final two games against Southern California and N.C. State. The opportunistic defense that had saved Notre Dame most of the season struggled for a second straight game.
Against the Irish, USC's Carson Palmer went 32-of-46 for 425 yards in the regular-season finale as he secured his grip on the Heisman Trophy.
Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers was 23-of-37, including 13 in a row at one point, to possibly hatch his Heisman campaign for next season.
Rivers and North Carolina State kept the Irish off balance with multiple formations and trick plays.
"The shifting, motion and movement forces you to adjust," Willingham said, "and any time you are forced to make adjustments, it puts you on your heels a little bit."
Instead of being carried off the field by his teammates like Rudy Ruettiger was after his walk-on appearance, which was the subject of the movie "Rudy," Dillingham was getting his chin stitched after being hit hard by the Wolfpack.
"They hit me good a couple of times," he said.
The Irish lost three of their last five games and narrowly avoided an upset to Navy, putting a damper on what had been such a promising season.
The Irish will finish out of the top 10 for a ninth straight season, extending the longest drought in school history. The longest previous streak was from 1956-63.
Willingham said the loss doesn't ruin the season.
"I don't think there's that many teams out there that have won 10 games in the country at this time," he said. "But at the same time, we feel that if we're going to become the team we'd like to be, we've got to get accustomed to winning our last ball game. Championship teams win their last ball games."