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Irish Go South Fast Against Northwestern

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From Associated Press

Northwestern Coach Gary Barnett said he expected his team to beat Notre Dame. He probably was the only one who felt the way.

The Wildcats pulled off a huge upset, stunning ninth-ranked Notre Dame, 17-15, Saturday in the opener for both teams.

“I expected this to happen,” said Barnett, whose team was a 28-point underdog. “It’s just got to send a message to everybody that our kids can play with anybody, and I think we just did.”

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The Irish were coming off a mediocre 6-5-1 season, but the magnitude of the upset was highlighted by the contrasting history of the schools.

Before the season, Notre Dame had the highest winning percentage of any major school (.760), the most national championships (eight) and the most Heisman Trophy winners (seven). Northwestern had the fourth-lowest winning percentage (.418) and has the Division I-A record for most consecutive losses, 34 from 1979-82.

“I don’t think we had any respect,” said Wildcat running back Darnell Autry, who rushed for 160 yards in 33 carries. “We respected ourselves and I hope everyone else respects us now too.”

Notre Dame pulled to 17-15 on a two-yard touchdown run by Randy Kinder with 6:15 left but failed on the two-point conversion when quarterback Ron Powlus tripped over a teammate’s foot and fell while dropping back.

The Irish had one more shot, but Kinder slipped on fourth and two at his own 44 with about four minutes remaining and Northwestern ran out the clock.

Northwestern players celebrated on the field after breaking a 14-game losing streak to Notre Dame. Irish players and fans appeared stunned.

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“We don’t ever think about losing here,” Irish Coach Lou Holtz said. “They hurt, I hurt.”

It was Northwestern’s first victory over Notre Dame since 1962, when future Irish coach Ara Parseghian coached the Wildcats. It also was Notre Dame’s first loss in a home opener since 1986, when Michigan won, 24-23, in Holtz’s first game as Irish coach.

“Before we left the hotel, I told the players I did not want to be carried off the field,” Barnett said. “I wanted them to act like we’ve done this before.”

The Wildcats, coming off a 3-7-1 season, took charge after recovering Kinder’s fumble near the 50-yard line with 11:47 to go in the first quarter. Autry’s running helped Northwestern move to the Notre Dame seven, where Steve Schnur connected with Dave Beazley for the touchdown.

Powlus, sacked four times and pressured throughout the game, said the early fumble brought back all the doubts from last season.

“That really hurt the team mentally,” said Powlus, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 175 yards and no touchdowns. “Going through this experience should teach the team enough to never want to lose again.”

The Wildcats sacked Powlus on the first series of the second half and forced Notre Dame to punt. Northwestern took 55 seconds to score again.

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After being held for no gain, Autry broke two tackles and ran 29 yards to the Notre Dame 26. Schnur then hit D’Wayne Bates in the end zone and Northwestern had a 17-9 lead with 12:02 left in the third quarter.

The momentum appeared to swing back to the Irish when nose guard Paul Grasmanis sacked Schnur on his nine-yard line with about 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. That forced Paul Burton to punt from his end zone, and the Irish then went on a 46-yard scoring drive that ended with Kinder’s touchdown run.

Although Notre Dame outgained Northwestern, 371-321, the Irish couldn’t come up with the big plays.

“I thought there were three keys coming into the game: turnovers, the kicking game and critical plays, and I thought we won all three of those,” Barnett said. “When you do that, you win games, no matter what the stature of your program or where you come from.”

Schnur completed 14 of 28 for 166 yards and the two touchdowns after winning a three-way battle at quarterback.

“For me personally, this is something I’ve dreamed of my entire life,” he said.

Powlus, however, said Notre Dame will recover.

“This team will learn how to win,” he said. “Nobody on the team is going to sit there and think we’re going to be 8-3 this year. We’re going to come back and try to win 10 in a row.”

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