Notre Dame vs. Penn State 1992: The Snow Bowl

Senior Day 1992 saw Notre Dame edge Penn State 17-16 in "The Snow Bowl," thanks to Rick Mirer's last-minute heroics and a decisive two-point conversion.

Senior Day 1992 for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was a matchup against the Penn State Nittany Lions in which Notre Dame entered the contest as a 10-point favorite. What’s become known simply as “The Snow Bowl” might have lacked excitement in regard to immortalizing the matchup but the two teams more than made up for it with a thrilling finish.

Taking place on November 14 of that year, the weather forecast indicated that flurries were likely with expected temperatures in the low 30s. The Irish entered the game with a 7-1-1 record and were ranked eighth in the country. They had tied Michigan at home in their second game and later dropped another home clash to Stanford. The Nittany Lions took the field hoping to stop a stretch in which they had dropped three of their last four games.

The Coaches

Lou Holtz was in his seventh season as head coach of the Irish and was on his way to his fourth year of reaching double-digits in victories for a season. During his Notre Dame tenure, Holtz had won only two of the six previous clashes against Penn State, with the Irish on the losing end of their previous two meetings.

Joe Paterno was in the midst of his 27th season as head coach of the Nittany Lions and had already established himself as a coaching legend. He had twice previously led the school to national championships but was struggling through his worst season since 1988. Those struggles would pale in comparison to the devastating hit his legacy took two decades later because of a notorious scandal that resulted in his dismissal.

The Key Players

Rick Mirer was behind center for Notre Dame and had impressive running options with the tandem of Reggie Brooks and The Bus, Jerome Bettis. The Irish lacked a game-breaking receiver that year but did have tight end Irv Smith as an effective outlet. On defense, cornerback Tom Carter and linebacker Demetrius DuBose paced a unit that had allowed only 15 points per game to that point.

Future NFL quarterback Kerry Collins was fully recovered from a fractured finger suffered just before training camp began. His two main weapons were running back Richie Anderson and wide receiver O.J. McDuffie. One of the chief reasons for the Nittany Lions’ struggles was due to the team’s defense struggles in stopping the run.

The Game

Starting the game under mostly cloudy skies and no snow, Notre Dame took the opening kickoff and in just over five minutes, notched the opening score. Kicker Craig Hentrich’s 26-yard field goal was the first of a trio of three-pointers on the day for him. The 53-yard drive was largely aided by the 32 yards gained by Smith on two tosses from Mirer.

The Nittany Lions’ first drive ended with a Notre Dame interception, but the Irish returned the favor when Mirer threw a pick of his own. That helped spark a Penn State drive, highlighted by a 46-yard grab by wide receiver Tisen Thomas which had 15 more yards added on because of a personal foul on the Irish’s Jeff Burris. That helped set up a six-yard scoring run by Anderson to make it 6-3 in favor of the Lions but Bobby Taylor’s block of the extra point would turn out to be incredibly important.

It was during the latter stages of that drive that light snow flurries began to fall. That snowfall picked up quickly and led to a snow-covered field that limited second quarter scoring to a 31-yard field goal by Hentrich with nine seconds left in the first half. Penn State players indicated that footing was treacherous during that second period, though the Irish only managed to contribute a single field goal to their scoring total.

Halftime entertainment was not only provided by the two schools’ bands but also included filming parts of the final scene for the film “Rudy.” (The other game during which filming occurred was the ’92 Boston College game). Once play resumed, the two teams still had problems on offense, largely because of the melting snow that dotted parts of the field.

Notre Dame tallied the only points in the third on a 37-yard field goal from Hentrich and took their second lead of the contest with 5:27 left in the quarter. Early in the final period, Notre Dame tried a fake punt in Penn State territory that failed and sparked a Nittany Lion comeback.

Moving 63 yards on a 17-play that took over six minutes, Penn State picked a clutch 22-yard grab by Troy Drayton on third-and-18 to set up a 22-yard field goal to again tie things up. Disaster struck the Irish with under eight minutes remaining when Smith was stripped of the ball after picking up a first down. Penn State marched 44 yards on six plays to take a 16-9 lead with 4:25 left.

The Irish started their winning drive at their own 36 and Mirer sandwiched completions to Bettis and Ray Griggs with a 14-yard run to put the ball at the Penn State 22. Soon after, another Mirer run got it to the Penn State 10 for a first down with 1:14 left. Two runs and an incomplete pass then made it fourth-and-goal with 25 seconds remaining.

Mirer connected for the score on a floating toss over the middle to Bettis, with Holtz then going for the win on a two-point attempt. Mirer found a diving Brooks in the right corner of the end zone to make the final, 17-16. Mirer’s throw came amid heavy pressure from the Penn State defense and made his final home game one for the ages.

The Aftermath

The Irish closed out the regular season the following week with a 31-23 win over Southern Cal. That led to a berth in the Cotton Bowl, where the Irish had little trouble against Texas A&M in a 28-3 victory. Meanwhile, Penn State stumbled toward a 7-4 regular season finish, a record that relegated them to the Blockbuster Bowl. In that contest, they met Stanford, who proceeded to dominate the game in a 24-3 win.

In the buildup to this game, much of the talk had centered around the fact that Notre Dame had chosen to stop scheduling Penn State, citing the latter’s move to the Big Ten the following year. The two schools had met every year since 1981 but other than a two-year resumption in 2006 and 2007, this clash has been absent from both school’s schedules.

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