Notre Dame – Boston College Rivalry: The Holy War

Though natural rivals as the two most prominent Catholic colleges playing Big Time Football,  it took quite a while for the Boston College-Notre Dame series to take root.

Part of the reason may have been that Boston College felt that Notre Dame stole Frank Leahy back to South Bend.

Frank Leahy  had coached at Boston College, spectacularly, in ’39 and ’40, and was a glistening 20-2 for a .909 winning percentage, the greatest in Boston College History.  Nevertheless, when Notre Dame came calling it was a swift and easy decision for Frank Leahy to return to his, and Rockne’s, alma mater.

The Ireland Trophy

The Notre Dame – Boston College rivalry is one of several Notre Dame rivalries that features a special trophy for the winner.  The Ireland Trophy was introduced to the rivalry in 1994 by the Notre Dame student government.  A lesser known, but older trophy also exists, however.  The Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl is a large cut crystal bowl handed out to the winner of the game by the Notre Dame Club if Boston at the conclusion of each contest.

The “Holy War” Begins

Eventually, the series began in in Foxboro in 1975 with Dan Devine leading the Irish to a 17-3 victory.  The game was called the “Holy War” due to both schools Catholic affiliations.  The name stuck. Notre Dame won the first four in the series.

Gerry Faust’s Irish even bested Doug Flutie’s BC team in the ’83 Liberty Bowl.

Boston College’s Shining Moment Against Notre Dame

November 20, 1993

Some seeds may have been planted, particularly in Tom Coughlin’s intense soul, in the ’92 game.  Notre Dame pounded BC that day by a 52-20 score and a late fake punt call by Notre Dame annoyed the Boston College folk.

On November 13, 1993 the Irish had vanquished the NO. 1 ranked visitors from Florida State in a tense emotional game, 31-24 with a great play by Shawn Wooden stopping a last gasp effort by Heisman Trophy Winner-to-be Charley Ward.  The Irish seemed on a collision course with the National Championship. Other than a 4 point road victory in Ann Arbor, the Irish had dominated all other opponents. That was the good news, but the bad news was that Boston College was coming in on the following Saturday.

Coughlin came seething in, and he didn’t come alone.  He had an NFL-caliber quarterback in Glenn Foley and an NFL caliber Tight End in Pete Mitchell, a mystery that Rick Minter has not yet solved even today.  The letdown trap was set.

Boston College came out roaring and the Irish were expectedly, but fatally, listless. Coughlin carved up Minter’s defense and Foley and Mitchell performed surgery on the underbelly of the Irish secondary. Foley finished the day completing 30 of 48 passes for 315 yards and 4 TDS.  Favorite target Pete Mitchell caught 13 passes for 132 yards.

Lost in the agony of defeat was a stirring Irish comeback, led by Kevin McDougal.  Down by  a margin of 38-17 with just over 11 minutes to go, the Irish exploded offensively and roared back to a 39-38 lead with 69 seconds to go. McDougal was magnificent and had led the talented Irish offense to 22 points in a mere 10 Fourth Quarter minutes.

But Coughlin and Foley had one more bullet to fire and marched down the field, with Mitchell evading Minter’s minions for 2 big catches.  David Gordon punched through a 41 yard field goal as time expired.  Final Score: Boston College 41-Notre Dame 39. The national championship that seemed all but locked up the week before was gone, dreams shattered by Boston College’s Eagles.

Holtz’ regime was never the same after that moment.

A Rivalry Was Born

A rivalry was born that day, and Boston College was now comfortable playing the Irish.  They returned the defeat favor against Holtz again in 1994.

Boston College racked up an 8-4 mark against Notre Dame teams coached by Davie, Willingham and Weis including 6 straight victories from 2001-2007.   The streak by Boston College also included another notable Boston College victory over the Irish.

During Tyrone Willingham’s first season at Notre Dame in 2002, the Irish entered their contest with Boston College undefeated and ranked 4th in the country.  The Eagles shocked the 8-0 bright green clad Fighting Irish that Irish afternoon thanks to a fumble-fest and a 2nd half quarterbacked by Pat Dillingahm following a Carlyle Holiday injury.  The win was Boston College’s first win over a top 5 program since their 1993 upset of the Irish.

Ain’t That a Kick in the Head

Kicking has played a cruel role in this rivalry for the Irish.  On top of Gordon’s ’93 heart breaker, twice in the series a missed extra point has doomed the Irish.  In 1999 a missed Jim Sanson PAT forced the Irish to attempt a two conversion in the 4th they would fail to convert in a two point loss.  In a one point loss in 2004, a missed DJ Fitzpatrick PAT would prove to be the difference.

Notre Dame Starts a New Streak

After Boston College rattled off six straight wins between 2001 and 2008, including that upset of an undefeated Notre Dame team in 2002, Notre Dame started a streak of their own. From 2009 through 2020, Notre Dame and Boston College faced each other eight times with Notre Dame winning every contest – many times in convincing fashion. Five of Notre Dame’s wins in the eight game winning steak were by 14 points or more.

With Notre Dame’s ACC scheduling agreement, the Irish will be seeing the Eagles about every third year.  And the undercurrent will be more Catholic than Atlantic.

Notre Dame Boston College Series History

1W9/15/7517Foxboro, MA3
2W12/29/8319Memphis, TN18Liberty Bowl
3W11/7/8732Notre Dame, IN25
4W11/7/9254Notre Dame, IN7
5L11/20/9339Notre Dame, IN41Senior Day
6L10/8/9411Chestnut Hill, MA30
7W10/28/9520Notre Dame, IN10
8W11/9/9648Chestnut Hill, MA21
9W10/25/9752Notre Dame, IN20
10W11/7/9831Chestnut Hill, MA26
11L11/20/9929Notre Dame, IN31
12W11/11/0028Notre Dame, IN16
13L10/27/0117Chestnut Hill, MA21
14L11/2/027Notre Dame, IN14
15L10/25/0325Chestnut Hill, MA27
16L10/23/0423Notre Dame, IN24
17L10/13/0714Notre Dame, IN27
18L11/8/080Chestnut Hill, MA17
19W10/24/0920Notre Dame, IN16
20W10/2/1031Chestnut Hill, MA13
21W11/19/1116Notre Dame, IN14
22W11/10/1221Chestnut Hill, MA6
23W11/21/1519Boston, MA16Shamrock Series: Fenway
24W9/16/1749Chestnut Hill, MA20
25W11/23/1940Notre Dame, IN9Senior Day
26W11/14/2045Chestnut Hill, MA31

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  1. To be sure. Should be a hard hitting game. B.C. Defense is top ranked. ND will have to earn every inch of field. Their O is not supposed to be strong. But assuredly will play their best and then some. ST should be huge for field position advantage. Be great if ND could get a score or two with them. Hoping D can get some turnovers also. Did with W.F. and Pitt. Hope it is the start of ND going on a string of them. Looking forward to a hard fought game as B.C. usually is. Just win. Thanks.

  2. They can be dangerous. Between WF and BC, I worry more about BC because you know they want to knock off the Irish. In a sense, because they really have nothing else to play for, no bowl game to look forward too, no winning season, that all makes them a little more dangerous in my eye. The only thing that could be a positive for BC would be to be the team that killed ND’s playoff hopes.

    I hope the Irish come ready to play. ND certainly has the talent to nail BC, but sometimes you need a little more. If I were the team, I wouldn’t let up until BC knew it was over. Do not relax until then. The last thing headline anyone wants to see on the Irish side is “Boston College Ruins Notre Dame’s Playoff Hopes”

    1. Charlie, it’s 3/35/17 now. And I am just browsing the web. I came-across your comment ad you are absolutely right. ’83 was Faust.

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