G.J. Kinne raced to the end zone, grabbed a baton and began conducting the Tulsa band. The celebration was on at Notre Dame Stadium after the Golden Hurricane pulled off one the biggest wins in school history.
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Kinne completed two long late passes to set up a go-ahead field goal by Kevin Fitzpatrick and John Flanders’ end zone interception sealed the upset with 36 seconds left Saturday, giving Tulsa a stunning 28-27 win.
”I’ve never been a part of anything like that. It was an awesome feeling,” Kinne said, describing the locker room after the victory — Tulsa’s first over a BCS team since 1998, a win that snapped a 19-game losing streaks in those games.
”I’ll tell you what we kept doing — kept reminding ourselves to play the next play,” Tulsa coach Todd Graham said. ”We didn’t come here for a good showing, we came here to win.”
For Notre Dame, it was the miserable end of an emotionally draining week.
The Irish played just three days after the death of Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old student videographer who was filming the team’s practice Wednesday when the lift he was in fell over on a windy day. Both teams wore shamrock decals with the letters DS on their helmets in Sullivan’s memory. After the game, Irish coach Brian Kelly said it was his call to hold practice that day and that ”in terms of the tragedy that occurred, there’s never been a more difficult time in my life.”
Back on the field, Notre Dame’s chances for a winning season are now slim at best and the Irish lost starting quarterback Dayne Crist to a severe knee injury in the first quarter, one that will likely end his season. The Irish also played without leading rusher Armando Allen, whose collegiate career may be over with a hip injury.
”Obviously the game didn’t end how we wanted. But everyone did a good job of dedicating the game to Declan, his family, being supportive with that,” said Tommy Rees, who replaced Crist and threw four TD passes but also pitched three interceptions.
”Obviously a terrible, terrible tragedy, what happened,” Rees added.
Kinne hit a 31-yard pass to Ricky Johnson on a critical third-and-26 and also connected on a 32-yarder to Genesis Cole to set up Fitzpatrick’s 27-yard field goal with 3:23 left, putting the Golden Hurricane up 28-27.
Notre Dame drove down the field behind Rees, who hit a 26-yard pass to Michael Floyd that carried to the Tulsa 32 as the Irish (4-5) tried to get in position for a field goal.
But on a second-and-8 from the Tulsa 19, instead of trying to get in position for a field goal, Rees lofted a pass toward the corner of the end zone for Floyd and Flanders picked it off. After the Golden Hurricane (5-3) ran out the clock, their players raced to the end zone to celebrate with the band.
”I under-threw the ball a little bit. But with Mike, he can even make bad plays good. That one is completely on me,” Rees said.
”I cut the receiver off and it was a jump ball between me and him. I was in the right position and I was just able to hang on to the football. I just made an unbelievable play,” Flanders said. ”I had a feeling it was coming to (Floyd).”
Crist was hurt in the first quarter when he was hit out of bounds after a 29-yard run by Tanner Antle and watched the second half on crutches from the sidelines.
Tulsa used its speed and quickness to stay close in the flag-filled game, scoring on a 66-yard interception return right before the half by Shawn Jackson and a 59-yard punt return by Damaris Johnson in the third. The Golden Hurricane also overcame 12 penalties.
Kinne ran 20 times for 78 yards while completing 18 of 34 for 196 yards. Rees, a freshman, hit 33 of 54 passes for 334 yard with Floyd hauling in 11 passes for 104 yards. He was the target for the final pass that Flanders picked off.
Rees’ pass late in the second quarter was tipped by Tulsa’s Curnelius Arnick and teammate Jackson caught in the air and raced for a TD. After the missed two-point conversion try, Notre Dame led 20-18 at the half.
Notre Dame got its first TD on a 10-yard pass from Rees to Floyd, but David Ruffer’s extra point attempt was blocked by Cory Dorris, Arnick picked up the ball and raced 98 yards to the other end for two points.
Fitzpatrick kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it 12-6, one play after Tulsa’s Charles Clay couldn’t hold on to an apparent TD pass with the ball coming loose after he hit the ground.
But Notre Dame came back behind Rees — he hit his first eight passes and 9 of his first 10 — when he threw to TJ Jones, who then lateraled to Wood completing a 23-yard scoring play.
The Irish then used some trickery for their next score as Bennett Jackson raced 20 yards, hurdling a tackler, on a faked punt. Rees then drilled a 21-yard pass to Tyler Eifert before hitting Floyd from the 4 for the score and a 20-12 lead.
Tulsa went 67 yards in nine plays on its first possession of the game. Kinne hit Damaris Johnson for a 9-yard TD pass to finish the drive.