Notre Dame takes out Rutgers in Pinstripe Bowl
NEW YORK (AP) -- The plan for Rutgers seemed to be playing out well. Keep Notre Dame out of the end zone, stay close heading into the fourth quarter and make a few plays to steal a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl.
The Scarlet Knights never did make those few plays.
Rutgers managed only 237 yards of offense and allowed far too many long drives to the Fighting Irish, who pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 29-16 victory Saturday.
"We thought we played good red zone defense and we could make them kick a few field goals and attempt some field goals, maybe we could block one and then win the game in the fourth quarter," Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood said. "We were kind of poised to do that."
Rutgers (6-7) heads to the Big Ten next year, leaving the American Athletic Conference (the former Big East) behind for much tougher competition. The Scarlet Knights will enter their new league coming off their first losing season since 2010 and just the second in the last nine years. Flood will need to show immediate improvement.
It'll help if he can find a quarterback.
Senior Chas Dodd, who became the starter late in the season because of Gary Nova's struggles, finished with 156 yards passing against Notre Dame, including a touchdown to star receiver Brandon Coleman.
"What we saw with their defense was just what we knew we would see," Dodd said. "We had a game plan ready to attack it. We just weren't able to because of our execution."
Coleman is off to the NFL, having decided to skip his senior season.
"We gave our best effort. It may not look like it on the scoreboard but this team gave our all and I want people to remember that." Coleman.
Tommy Rees passed for 319 yards in his final college game and Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals for Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish (9-4) finished their follow-up season to last year's run to the national championship game a long way from the BCS against a two-touchdown underdog trying to avoid a losing record.
Notre Dame's play was less than inspired -- Kelly said about a dozen players were fighting a flu bug -- but the win prevented the Irish from finishing with eight victories for the third time in his four seasons.
"A good season that could have been a great season," coach Brian Kelly said.
Notre Dame's TJ Jones scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter and Coleman answered with a 14-yard touchdown catch soon after. Tarean Folston's 3-yard touchdown run with 3:38 in the fourth made it 26-16 and finally gave the Irish a comfortable lead.
On the slick turf at Yankee Stadium, the Pinstripe Bowl turned into a field-goal kicking contest. Brindza was 5 for 6. Kyle Federico made 3 of 3 for the Scarlet Knights.
The Irish dominated in yards (494-237) and time of possession (38:49) but bogged down in the red zone repeatedly.
Rees closed a college career packed with both memorable and forgettable moments with a solid performance, going 27 for 47 with no interceptions.
"I loved the way we were able to stay calm and stay within our offense and continue to kind of monotonously move the ball down the field," Rees said.
Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin capped his excellent college career by being named game MVP.
Twice Notre Dame put together double-digit play drives that ended in short field goals for Brindza. A 15-play, 90-yard march that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth with Brindza's 25-yarder made it 19-13 Notre Dame with 12:46 left.
Brindza's third field goal, a 26-yarder with 6:03 left in the third quarter, gave Notre Dame a 16-13 lead -- after the Irish caught a break. Brindza had missed from 36 yards but Rutgers was flagged for running into the kicker to give him a second, easier, try.
The teams played to a 13-13 tie in first half that wasn't nearly as crisp and pleasant and as the weather.
Brindza kicked a couple of field goals, one after an interception by Kendall Moore at the Rutgers' 22.
Federico made two field goals for Rutgers, one after the Scarlet Knights recovered a muffed punt by Jones at the Notre Dame 21.
Jones atoned for the turnover with a touchdown run on a fly sweep that gave Notre Dame a 10-3 lead in the first quarter.
Rutgers came right back to tie with Dodd going deep to Coleman for 51 yards, and then finding him for a TD with 1:51 left in the first quarter.
North Carolina 39 Cincinnati 17
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The North Carolina Tar Heels have broken their Belk Bowl jinx.
T.J. Logan returned a kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown, and Ryan Switzer scored on an 86-yard punt return to help North Carolina beat Cincinnati 39-17 on Saturday for its first Belk Bowl victory in four attempts.
Marquise Williams threw for 171 yards and a touchdown for the Tar Heels (7-6) in their first bowl victory since 2010.
Romar Morris scored on two short touchdown runs and Jack Tabb caught a touchdown pass as the Tar Heels (7-6) closed the season by winning six of their final seven games under second-year coach Larry Fedora.
Cincinnati (9-4) was looking to become the bowl's first back-to-back champion since Virginia did it 10 years ago, but last year's MVP Brandon Kay was limited to 181 yards passing and no touchdowns.
The Tar Heels had five sacks, including one for a safety.
North Carolina came in having lost its previous three in-state Belk Bowl appearances, but bolted to a 23-3 halftime lead behind a pair of long touchdown drives led by Williams and Logan's nifty kickoff return.
The Tar Heels dominated from the opening kickoff, taking a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, effectively moving the ball 68 yards in 11 plays behind a no-huddle offense with Morris scoring on a 2-yard run.
Brandon Ellerbe and Kareem Martin sacked Kay in the end zone for a safety -- the first of three sacks in the opening half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Logan put the Tar Heels in control by fielding the kickoff near the left sideline, getting a block on the inside and bolting up the middle of the field for a touchdown.
Williams made it 23-3 in the second quarter, hitting Tabb on a quick slant for a 3-yard touchdown strike.
Unlike last year's Belk Bowl when Cincinnati spotted Duke 17 points and stormed back to beat the Blue Devils 48-34 behind Kay's four touchdown passes, there would be no Bearcats comeback.
Switzer turned in another big special teams play in the third quarter when he fielded a punt at his own 14 and, after several Cincinnati overran the coverage, returned it 86 yards for a touchdown and a 29-3 lead. Switzer has five punt returns for a touchdown, tying him with Chad Owens of Hawaii (2004) for NCAA single-season record.
The Bearcats reached the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown run by Ralph David Abernathy, but the Tar Heels answered with a methodical 13-play, 65-yard drive, with Morris scoring his second touchdown on a 1-yard plunge to make it 36-10.