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Irish Get the Boot Yet Again : College football: Once-dismal Michigan kicker Remy Hamilton does the job this time in 26-24 victory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Are you sitting down, Notre Dame?

Good, because the Michigan kicker who sent the game-winning 42-yard field goal through the silence of Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, who provided the Wolverines with a 26-24 victory in the waning seconds, was an absolute basket case about five months ago. Certifiably useless. Couldn’t make an extra point, much less a field goal.

His teammates winced when they heard his name. His coaches winced when they said it. In spring practice he missed every kick he tried.

Feel faint, Notre Dame? Wait until you hear this:

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If Michigan’s other kicker hadn’t been declared a disaster area after last week’s shank-a-thon, no one would have ever heard of Remy Hamilton. Wolverine coaches didn’t decide to start him until last Friday night, and even then they waited until the pre-game warmups to make a final, final decision.

A vote of confidence, it wasn’t.

Still, moments before Hamilton trotted onto the field with seven seconds remaining Saturday, with 59,075 fans screaming as one, with NBC’s cameras peering through his facemask, with the Irish ahead by a point, the sophomore kicker turned to Michigan assistant coach Mike DeBord and said, “Coach, I’m going to make it.”

And he did, though no one is exactly sure how.

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In an eerie resemblance to last year’s Boston College game, Notre Dame (1-1) was beaten once again by a field goal on its home field in the final seconds. There was the same disbelief, the same sight of Irish players dropping to the turf, some pounding the grass with their fists.

Last season it was David Gordon’s kick. This time it was Hamilton’s. Gordon’s game-winner tumbled over the crossbar from 41 yards away and with no time left on the clock. Hamilton’s sailed over from 42, with two seconds remaining.

“It’s another Boston College,” Irish linebacker Jeremy Nau said.

Hamilton’s field goal, his fourth of the afternoon, overshadowed another notable performance by Irish sophomore quarterback Ron Powlus. Powlus, making only his second start, completed 15 of 27 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, the final score coming on a seven-yard pass to Derrick Mayes with 52 seconds to play.

Michigan linebacker Trevor Pryce was on the field when it happened. He saw the score. He saw the clock. He saw another Michigan defeat by hated Notre Dame.

“My honest opinion?” he said. “Yes, I thought we had lost the game.”

That’s because the sixth-ranked Wolverines (2-0) started the drive on their 17-yard line. They had one timeout left. They had Hamilton on the sideline.

With No. 3-ranked Notre Dame pulling two of its linebackers for defensive backs, Michigan chipped away. Quarterback Todd Collins scrambled for 15 yards on the first play. He completed a 26-yarder to wide open tight end Jay Riemersma. He found wide receiver Seth Smith for a nine-yard completion.

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Fourteen seconds remained when the Wolverines called their final timeout. Second and one from the Notre Dame 34. Too far for Hamilton.

Collins dropped back, dodged linebacker Bert Berry, looked left and found Smith. Smith cradled the ball and then leaped toward the sidelines for a nine-yard gain. Seven seconds left--time enough for a field-goal attempt and the making of a legend.

Every day during the summer, at exactly 10 a.m., Hamilton and either his mother or father would arrive at a Boca Raton, Fla., field and practice kicks. His parents would hold and Hamilton would aim and hope for the best.

“OK,” his dad would say, “Notre Dame . . . 50 yards away . . . knock it in.”

Hamilton knew better.

“I’d probably miss it,” he said, recalling those workouts.

Hamilton couldn’t do anything right back then. His confidence was shot. The uprights seemed inches wide, the crossbar a mile high.

“Extra points seemed like 60-yarders to me,” he said.

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Spring practice had been a nightmare. Hamilton couldn’t make anything. He knew it and worse yet, so did his coaches and teammates.

But something happened this past week. Hamilton began sending balls long and far--and for a change of pace--through the uprights. With starter Erik Lovell struggling, DeBord decided to take a chance. At the coaches’ meeting Friday evening, Michigan Coach Gary Moeller asked for a recommendation.

“Mo, we have to go with Remy,” he said.

So they did and look what happened. Hamilton’s first attempt of the day, a 29-yarder midway through the first period, was blocked by Bobby Taylor. But the ball fell into Michigan running back Che Foster’s hands, who lurched forward for a first down. The Wolverines took a 7-3 lead two plays later.

The lead would change hands seven times. But with 2:15 remaining in the game, Michigan led, 23-17, thanks mostly to a fumbled center snap by Powlus from Mark Zataveski, who hadn’t played the position since high school.

In all, Notre Dame would commit three turnovers--all fumbles. Last year, they committed 10 turnovers in 12 games.

Then came the comeback. After a 55-yard kickoff return by Michael Miller, Powlus drove the Irish downfield. A pass interference penalty put the ball on the Michigan two-yard line. One play later (Notre Dame was called for an illegal shift), Powlus found Mayes in the back of the end zone.

Mayes, who twisted his ankle on the play, was carried off the field by Powlus and fullback Ray Zellars. Had they been thinking, they would have carried him on their shoulders--that’s how good the catch was.

Then came Michigan’s turn for the unlikely. And Hamilton’s big moment.

With those seven seconds left and the Irish worried about having too many men on the field, Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz called a timeout. It couldn’t have come at a better time--for Michigan, whose players were scrambling to line up for the final attempt.

“They did us a favor,” Hamilton said. “Thanks, Lou.”

That done, Hamilton counted off his paces, peered toward the goal posts one final time, waited for the snap to Riemersma and then kicked the Michigan Miracle.

Afterward, Holtz mumbled something about lessons learned.

“Losing is a part of life; you can learn from it and benefit,” he said.

Sound familiar?

“We hurt,” he said a season ago after the Boston College loss, “but it is all part of life and you learn to handle it.”

No problem. Notre Dame has had more than enough practice.


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