Beyond the Boxscore: Estime’s Scoring Dash Gives Irish Dramatic Victory Over Duke

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.

Aggressive Start

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.

Self-Inflicted Punishment

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.

Next Up

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.

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  1. Glad for the win. The Irish need to get their offense clicking again. Everyone upset over slow developing run plays is correct. Pulling guards and tackles and the RB hitting the hole quickly should get 4-6 yards per play with this team.
    That will open up the downfield passing with play action.

    This offense is talented enough to score 45-50 on every regular season opponent. And this defense should only have trouble with USC.
    This season can end right.

    1. Without improvement in the WR corps, the passing game will remain as anemic as it’s been for the past decade, when it had a stable full of good receivers but no QB.

      And no matter how much the WRs might get coached up before next season, we go right back to square one with the QB anyway.
      I was really hoping for a vastly improved airshow this year from ND. Beyond frustrating.

      1. Yes, they need to do a better job of evaluating these high school receivers. They all look good on film but doesn’t always translate to college. Merriweather and Colzie were consensus 4 star talents and had many big time offers. Greathouse and Flores look very good but you need more and Notredame doesn’t have a game wrecker ala Will Fuller,Davonte Smith, Marvin Hairston Jr. etc.

  2. I remember when holding was called once upon a time. Not against Duke by ACC refs. Nor following the rule that you can’t overturn a coffin corner punt giving Duke 19 yards late.
    Incompetence or favoritism?
    ND played undisciplined but Duke got away with much. It’s long past time that Big Daddy Swarbucks speaks out against the atrocious ongoing one sided calls against ND by partisan ACC refs. It might be not so blatant if ND sports administration speaks out, especially after a win. Or expect more of the same at Louisville.
    ND needed to show they could win the close game versus a top 20 team
    And they did, dramatically!
    Howard Cross and Mitch Evans so deserved game balls but some special heroics in the waning minutes by Hartman (97 yards in less than two minutes), Estime, Liufau ( for a half) and the ND D’ deserve recognition. It won’t get much easier versus the third of four consecutive games against undefeated teams ( has that ever happened midseason ), and with a depleted receiver room. Duke shut down receivers other than Evans and unless receivers get healthier or get open, Louisville might do the same and also load the box. A dangerous trap game upcoming before Caleb arrives in South Bend.

  3. Offensive line play was the worst I have seen in awhile….they were literally getting run over in first half. They play like that against USC they will get eaten alive. More annoying was the run up the middle that went nowhere for about 55 minutes. No adjustments all game and untold number of penalties. Pulled one out luckily….

    1. 100% AGREE not 1 screen pass not 1 end sweep! Just the same play after play with estemee running over the center for no gain1 No adjustments at all!

  4. Irish critically need to diversify their rushing attack. That slow developing up the middle run will take you only so far.
    There are right and left sides of the field that can be exploited. no creativity in Parker’s offense. The deep ball is still badly neglected in the play calls.

    Irish should have scored points in bunches last night. We were extremely lucky to get out w/ the W.
    should have enough gas in the tank to beat Louisville.

    USC – I don’t see this anemic offense keeping up w/ Caleb Williams et al

    1. USC could have destroyed Colorado, just like Oregon did, but looked like they just decided that was enough.
      The program has a history of doing that….but never against ND for some reason.

  5. Couldn’t help but notice how giddy Herbstreit and Fowler were when it started to appear Duke might win. Priceless to see and how how deflated there voices had become at the end of game and post game. Those two clowns can suck a dick.

    1. I agree…..and hardly a suprose, but they don’t even pretend to be subltle, or even try to hide it.

      I would point out their continued opposite, gallingly unprofessional coddling of Colorado and Sanders yesterday.
      When USC was dismantling them, the litany of excuses started. And they kept up that charade until Colorado finally got it to under 20 points, and then it was right back to the bottle.
      They ended up spinning that stinkbomb as a sure sign of CU’s pending greatness.

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