Bruising fullback Jerome Bettis bulled his way to two touchdowns and a caught a seven-yard pass from Rick Mirer for another, powering No. 5 Notre Dame past stubborn Air Force, 28-15, Saturday night.
Mirer also connected with Tony Smith on an 83-yard pass play for a touchdown as the Irish (6-1) beat Air Force (6-2) for the sixth consecutive time.
The Falcons generated 354 yards rushing, with fullback Jason Jones leading the way with 171. But Air Force repeatedly bogged down deep in Irish territory, settling for three field goals before Jones finally found the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame scored on four of its first five possessions to account for all of its scoring.
Utilizing its superior size and speed, Notre Dame marched 76 yards for its first touchdown, sandwiched around a pair of field goals by Air Force’s Joe Wood.
The Irish got a pair of touchdowns just 2:10 apart late in the second quarter. Smith slipped behind two defenders and caught Mirer’s long pass in stride at the Air Force 40-yard line, outrunning the pursuing defenders with 3:23 left.
Three plays later, defensive tackle Troy Ridgley stripped quarterback Rob Perez of the ball and recovered the fumble at the Air Force 36, and the Irish needed only five plays to score again, with the 247-pound Bettis running the final three yards with 1:13 left.
Battling the clock, the Falcons managed a 58-yard field goal by Wood on the final play of the half to draw within 21-9.
Notre Dame padded its margin to 28-9 with a 19-yard touchdown run by Bettis.