Irish hold off Michigan State 17-13

Published 11:42 am Sunday, September 22, 2013

Notre Dame’s Cam McDaniel scored a late touchdown to help lift the Fighting Irish over Michigan State 17-13. (Leader photo/KELLY SWEENEY)

Notre Dame’s Cam McDaniel scored a late touchdown to help lift the Fighting Irish over Michigan State 17-13. (Leader photo/KELLY SWEENEY)

NOTRE DAME — Tommy Rees threw for 142-yards and a touchdown and Cam McDaniel scored a late rushing touchdown to lift the No. 22-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish to a 17-13 over their longtime rivals, the Michigan State Spartans, in the last “Battle for the Megaphone” the teams will play for a couple of years on Saturday afternoon.

The game pitted an Irish offense that has at times struggled this season against the nation’s No. 1-ranked overall defense; as well as a matchup between the much-maligned Spartan offense and a Notre Dame defense that has been streaky at best throughout the first few games of the year.

Those matchup combinations proved to be a recipe for a knockdown-drag-out physical football game that only the sport’s strictest practicing purists could savor; while leaving the casual fan to view a contest they could hardly stomach to watch.

Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza scored the only points of the opening quarter with a 41-yard field goal. However, MSU would take the lead in the second quarter when Spartan quarterback Connor Cook connected with Macgarret King for a touchdown from 12 yards out.

The teams would spend the majority of the following drives after the MSU touchdown trading blows defensively and limiting their opponents to three-and-outs.

Then with just 17 seconds left in the half; Rees hooked up with emerging superstar wide-out TJ Jones for a touchdown and a 10-7 halftime lead after a particularly ugly display of football.

Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he couldn’t envision a scenario where the game would have progressed in any other fashion than how it played out.

“We knew what we were getting into; we respect the way Coach (Mark) Dantonio plays the game and his team. They’re tough and physical across the board and we had to match that, we knew it wasn’t going to be a beauty contest. That’s the way we constructed the game and found a way to win,” Kelly said.

Although the Spartans outgained Irish on offense and held the Notre Dame to just 82 yards rushing; their day was marred by mental mistakes, unsustainable drives, a fatal miscue and a bevy of penalties (including a few highly controversial pass interference calls), that caused MSU’s upset aspirations to come crashing down around them.

After starting out the second half moving the ball seemingly at will against the Irish defense, the positive Spartan drive stalled deep in Irish territory, which lead to a Michael Geiger 25-yard field goal to knot the score at 10-10.

Following a quick Irish three-and-out; the Spartan offense found itself on the move again when the drive came to an abrupt end when an ill-timed halfback pass from RJ Shelton landed directly in the hands of Irish safety Matthias Farley.

“That was my call. I felt like we needed a big play, as you could all see, it didn’t really turn out,” Dantonio said.

Notre Dame would waste no time in capitalizing on the Sparty error as McDaniel would finish the ensuing drive with a 15-yard scamper to score the game’s deciding touchdown.

The Spartan’s would add another Geiger field goal late in the fourth and found themselves with a chance to steal the game away from the Irish in the game’s closing moments.

Then the Spartan’s coaching staff made a head-scratching move by benching Cook and sending out embattled former starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell to lead the team on its final drive.

The move didn’t pay-off as MSU lost two-yards in four plays and lost the ball on downs; which allowed ND to take a knee and end the game.

Notre Dame’s victory marks the first time since 1994 that the Irish beat the Spartans in three-or-more consecutive games.

The Irish will return to action next week in a huge game against the Oklahoma Sooners in South Bend; while Michigan State will have bye week before opening up their Big Ten schedule against the Iowa Hawkeyes.