Audric Estime’s 30-yard scoring run in the final minute of action gave the Notre Dame Fighting Irish a heartstopping 21-14 victory over the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday night. The victory helped keep the Irish in the national title hunt and came just one week after Notre Dame had lost on the final play from scrimmage.
The final drive was a challenging one, starting at the Irish five-yard-line with 2:35 left in the contest. The Irish were able to convert on a third-and-10 and soon after got an even bigger first down on fourth-and-16, thanks to a run by Sam Hartman. Estime then broke away for the score after first appearing to be stopped near the line of scrimmage.
Below are some other key aspects of the game:
Scuffling After the Break
Prior to that final push, the second-half offense for Notre Dame had contributed next to nothing during the previous three drives, gaining just 41 yards in 11 plays. That allowed Duke to get back in the game and turn a 13-0 deficit into a 14-13 lead with 9:17 left. Despite the urgency involved, the Irish followed that up with a three-and-out.
The Blue Devils then put together a time-consuming drive that ate up 5:23 on the clock, with all eight plays coming on the run. That got them as close as the Irish 31, but a two-yard loss and the previous shaky field goal efforts of Duke kicker Todd Pelino resulted in them punting the ball away. That set the stage for the high-tension finish.
In contrast to the second-half struggles, the Notre Dame offense started the game with a flourish. On the second play of the opening drive, Sam Hartman connected with Mitchell Evans for a 27-yard reception. That was followed immediately by a near-miss reception by Tobias Merriweather inside the Duke 10.
Though that drive stalled out, Jeremiyah Love proceeded to inject some new life into the Irish by taking the snap on a fake punt. That gained 34 yards and put them in the Blue Devils’ Red Zone. Whether Duke was still in shock over that rapid turn of events is a question mark, but Audric Estime then took the ball and collected the first score of the contest.
Notre Dame did take a 10-0 lead into the halftime locker room, but the margin might have been higher had the Irish not been flagged seven times for penalties in the first half. The most egregious example of this issue was seen in the first quarter when Notre Dame ended up being called four times for a false start. In addition, Spencer Shrader missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.
The issue continued in the second half with the Irish being assessed five more penalties to finish with 70 yards on the night in that dubious category. Even on the final drive, two penalties from Merriweather nearly proved to be deadly. The first, another false start, pushed the already-challenged Irish back to their own three. Later, he was flagged for offensive pass interference, putting Notre Dame in a huge first-and-25 hole.
A Tale of Two Halves
Duke entered the game with a high-powered offense that was averaging 37 points and 425 yards per game. Yet, in the first half, Notre Dame’s defense dominated on their side of the ball for much of the time to hold the Blue Devils scoreless. The 131 yards Duke did gain in the opening two quarters was largely collected on the first and last drives of the half.
After picking up just 38 rushing yards in the first half, the Blue Devils’ potent running game began to finally emerge on their second drive. They gained 68 of the 75 yards on the ground, culminating with Jordan Waters’ one-yard run. On their other scoring push, quarterback Riley Leonard’s 33-yard scamper was the biggest play. Duke ended up gaining 151 yards on the ground in the final two periods.
That Man Evans
Following up on what had been his biggest game of the season, Evans delivered an even better performance against Duke. He finished with six catches for 134 yards and appears to have taken the mantle of being a prime target for Hartman.
Evans had the first reception of the game, though his biggest grab came with the Irish facing that third-and-10 on the final drive. Had he not hauled in that reception, the Irish would have faced fourth down on their own 16. That ominous prospect is now thankfully only a footnote to this dramatic clash.
For the third consecutive week, Notre Dame will be under the lights as they travel to face the undefeated Louisville Cardinals. This contest will mark only the fourth meeting between the two schools, with the Irish holding a slim 2-1 advantage. The only Notre Dame visit to Louisville came in 2019 when the Irish defeated the Cardinals 35-17 in the season opener.