The former walk-on had kept the Irish's turnaround season on track by leading a come-from-behind victory over Michigan Stateafter starter Carlyle Holiday was injured. Dillingham also was thequarterback 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 secondstraight game in the 28-6 loss to North Carolina State in the GatorBowl on Wednesday.
It marked the fourth time this season the11th-ranked Irish (10-3) failed to score a touchdown on offense.
"We didn't do our job and put points on the board," saidreceiver Arnaz Battle, who caught 10 passes for 84 yards.
The game, like the Irish season, just seemed to unravel. Itstarted coming apart against No. 17 North Carolina State (11-3)midway through the first quarter, when the Wolfpack stopped theIrish with a goal-line stand.
Battle caught a 12-yard pass from Holiday and was tackled on the2-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 washit hard by NCSU linebacker Dantonio Burnette. Holiday separated hisleft shoulder and didn't return.
Neither did the Notre Dame offense.
On Dillingham's first play, he handed off to Grant, who wastackled for a five-yard loss, so the Irish had to settle for a 23-yardfield 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 threeinterceptions. "It'shard when you don't really give yourself a chance to begin with."
Irish coach Tyrone Willingham didn't blame Notre Dame's problemson the injury to Holiday.
"We still had playmakers out there," Willingham said. "We still had opportunitiesthat were there, but we could not make the plays."
The Irish, who managed to beat Maryland and Purdue to open theseason without scoring a touchdown on offense, couldn't do it the finaltwo games against Southern California and N.C. State. Theopportunistic defense that had saved Notre Dame most of the seasonstruggled for a second straight game.
Against the Irish, USC's Carson Palmer went 32-of-46 for 425yards in the regular-season finale as he secured his grip on theHeisman Trophy.
Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers was 23-of-37,including 13 in a row at one point, to possibly hatch his Heismancampaign for next season.
Rivers and North Carolina State kept the Irish off balance withmultiple formations and trick plays.
"The shifting, motion and movement forces you to adjust," Willingham said, "andany time you are forced to make adjustments, it puts you on yourheels a little bit."
Instead of being carried off the field by his teammates likeRudy Ruettiger was after his walk-on appearance, which was thesubject of the movie "Rudy," Dillingham was getting his chinstitched 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 narrowlyavoided an upset to Navy, putting a damper on what had been such apromising season.
The Irish will finish out of the top 10 for aninth straight season, extending the longest drought in schoolhistory. 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 won10 games in the country at this time," he said. "But at thesame time, we feel that if we're going to become the team we'd liketo be, we've got to get accustomed to winning our last ball game.Championship teams win their last ball games."
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