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Brindza, Irish close out Rutgers

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NEW YORK -- It's appropriate that Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza's favorite athlete is the recently retired closer for the New York Yankees, Mariano Rivera.

Brindza kicked five field goals for the second time in his career, two in the fourth quarter, to help Notre Dame defeat Rutgers, 29-16, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl before 47,122 at Rivera's former home, Yankee Stadium.

"The fourth quarter is what a kicker's job is supposed to be," Brindza said. "Rivera is my favorite athlete because he's the closer and that's what I like to think of myself. We have saying on our team, 'Count on me.'"

Notre Dame (9-4), which lost to Alabama last season in the national title game, was playing in its first bowl game in the northeast. The farthest north it had played was the 1983 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.

Rutgers (6-7) is 5-4 in bowl games.

Notre Dame was without speedy running back George Atkinson III, who was suspended for violating team rules.

Atkinson is second on the Irish in rushing yards with 555 and scored three rushing touchdowns this season while catching seven passes for 55 yards.

Running backs Cam McDaniel and Torrean Foster shared the workload in Atkinson's absence, rushing for 80 yards and 73 yards, respectively.

The Irish dominated in yards, 494 to 236, and time of possession, 38:16 to 21:44, but had their version of a "closer" when the offense stalled repeatedly in the red zone.

That phrase is what Brindza said to Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly right before he kicked a 49-yard field goal with 2:28 to play on fourth down and six, turning a two possession game into the final score.

"I was thinking about going for it on fourth down there, but when you have a guy like Kyle Brindza, he is the best in the fourth quarter," Kelly said.

Brindza tacked on his fourth field of the game, nailing a 25-yarder that ended a 15-play, 90-yard march with 12:46 to go in the game, giving the Irish a 19-13 lead.

"We thought if we played good red zone defense and we could make them kick a few field goals, maybe we could block one and then win the game in the fourth quarter," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "We were poised to do that."

Foster scored on a three-yard run with 3:38 to play to move the Notre Dame lead to 26-16.

Brindza's third field goal, a 26-yarder, ended a 15-play, 71-yard drive that provided Notre Dame with a 16-13 cushion at 6:03 of the third quarter and took 4:55 off the clock.

Quarterback Tommy Rees of Notre Dame, operating out of an empty backfield for the majority of the first half, completed 27-of-47 passes to seven receivers for 319 yards.

The Irish line didn't allow Rees to get sacked.

Tight end Troy Niklas led the Irish with four catches for 75 yards and T.J. Jones caught five passes for 66 yards.

Rutgers has one of the worst passing defenses in the nation, ranking 113th in the nation.

Chass Dodd of Rutgers passed for 171 yards, completing 10-of-28 passes, including three interceptions.

Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin was named the game's Most Valuable Player. The 6-4, 308-pound fifth-year senior anchored an offensive line that rushed for 175 yards against one of the nation's top teams against the run.

"He's not only the best offensive lineman I've ever coached, but his influence on other linemen is amazing," Kelly said. "I call it the Larry Bird influence. Those linemen play so well because of him."

Kyle Federico drilled an 18-yard field goal for Rutgers with 8:35 remaining in the second quarter, tying the score, 13-13. It was the third tie in the half.

Brindza's second field goal of the first half, a 38-yarder with 12:59 left in the second quarter, gave the Fighting Irish a 13-10 lead.

The first quarter featured an offensive explosion which ended in a 10-10 draw.

Dodd threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman, who made the 20th scoring reception of his career to tie a Rutgers school record for wide receivers. Federico's extra point with 1:51 to go in the quarter tied the score, 10-10.

The teams combined for 232 total yards in the quarter.

The Fighting Irish moved ahead, 10-3, on its second possession of the first quarter when Jones took a pitch and sprinted eight yards for his 11th touchdown of the season.

Rees eclipsed the 3,000-yard passing mark this season on the drive, joining Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen as the only Notre Dame quarterbacks to achieve that mark.

Quentin Gause of Rutgers recovered Jones' fumbled punt return at the Notre Dame 21, setting up Federico's 36-yard field goal that drew Rutgers even, 3-3, with 8:00 left in the first quarter.

Notre Dame grabbed a 3-0 edge on its first possession of the game. Rees directed a 14-play, 71-yard drive that consumed 4:55 and ended with Brindza's 21-yard field goal.

"It was a good season, not a great one," Kelly said. "At Notre Dame we always want more."

NOTES: Notre Dame leads the series 5-0. ... The Irish are 29-6 in their last 35 games. ... Notre Dame set a season high in total plays (90) and a bowl game record for first downs (31). ... Irish QB Tommy Rees has 683 yards passing in three bowl games, a Notre Dame record. ... Rutgers was without WR Leonte Caroo, who had an upper body injury. ... The original Yankee Stadium hosted 185 college football games during its 85-year history. The stadium was the site of the annual Army-Notre Dame game from 1925-46 and in 1969. ... Rutgers ranked fourth in the nation in rushing defense this season at 94.6 yards per game. ... WR T.J. Jones is the 10th player in Notre Dame history to record over 2,000 career receiving yards and ranks sixth in school history.

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