Notre Dame survives Arizona State bid

Art Garcia, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Tommy Rees fired three touchdown passes to lead Notre Dame to a 37-34 victory over No. 22 Arizona State on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
The Fighting Irish (4-2) snapped a three-game losing streak to ranked teams dating to the national championship loss to Alabama in January. Rees also snapped out of a personal funk.
Rees had thrown for only 246 yards in his last two games. The senior had 279 yards passing, with receiver TJ Jones accounting for 135 yards and one touchdown on eight catches.
"It's a big win for us," Rees said. "To get right back on the right track heading into the bye week, the halfway point of the season, was kind of a game we understood the importance of, and we are really ready to go and had a great week of preparation."
The Irish are off for two weeks before facing USC in South Bend. Arizona State (3-2) returns to Pac-12 play next weekend at home against Colorado.
Notre Dame went into the fourth quarter with a 24-13 lead before the Sun Devils rallied to tie the score at 27. Kyle Brindza's third field goal of the second half, a 25-yard boot with 3:03 remaining, gave Notre Dame a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"We played well defensively," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "Arizona State is a great offensive team. We gave away one away late, but we kept fighting. We had a great drive in the fourth quarter, and it paid off."
Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly passed for 356 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted twice late in the fourth quarter as Arizona State was looking for its first victory over Notre Dame.
"This was an opportunity for us to win on a national stage," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "And to turn the ball over three times was the difference in the game."
After missing a field goal attempt on the game's opening possession, Brindza redeemed himself with a career-high 53-yarder on the second half's first drive for a 17-13 lead. The field goal tied for the longest in school history.
The Irish went up 24-13 after forcing the game's first turnover, a fumble deep in Sun Devils territory. Rees would hit tight end Troy Niklas in the back of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.
Arizona State pulled within 24-20 on Osahon Irabor's 37-yard interception return touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
After Notre Dame added a field goal, the Sun Devils drove 75 yards to tie it 27-27 midway through the fourth quarter. Kelly hooked up with De'Marieya Nelson on a 21-yard touchdown.
The Irish answered with a methodical march that chewed 5:08 off the clock that ended in Brindza splitting the uprights. Brindza is 11 of 11 in his career in the fourth quarter.
"He's a pretty clutch guy in the fourth quarter," Kelly said. "He missed one early, but you have to look at his track record."
Kelly was picked off on ASU's next two possessions, including linebacker Dan Fox's 14-yard return for a clinching touchdown.
"We moved the ball and did some nice things, but those turnovers were critical," Graham said.
Notre Dame took a 14-13 lead into the locker room, outgaining ASU 245-209 in total yards. Rees threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and Kelly passed for 160 yards and one score.
After a scoreless first quarter, the action picked up in the second quarter. Three touchdowns were scored in the last 3:35 before halftime.
The Sun Devils took a 6-0 lead on two Zane Gonzalez field goals. ASU got on the board less than a minute in the second quarter as Gonzalez drilled a 40-yarder to cap a 58-yard drive.
The Sun Devils reached the 3-yard line on their second scoring drive, but Kelly was sacked on third down. Gonzalez connected from 27 yards for a 6-0 lead.
Rees quickly put Notre Dame on top 7-6, leading the Irish on a 72-yard touchdown drive in 2:30. Rees' short pass to tight end Ben Koyack in the flat covered the final 19 yards.
Kelly and the Sun Devils struck back even quicker, going 78 yards in less than two minutes. Arizona State gambled on fourth down at the Irish 36 and Kelly found receiver Jaelen Strong down the right seam for the first touchdown of the night.
Notre Dame jumped back ahead on Rees' 8-yard scoring toss to receiver TJ Jones with just 10 seconds left in the half. Rees and Jones connected for 35 yards earlier in the march.
The Irish were in position to score on the first possession but came up empty. Staying mostly on the ground, the Irish drove 60 yards and took more than eight minutes off the clock before Brindza hooked a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left.
NOTES: Notre Dame won the first two meetings against Arizona State, with the last coming in 1999. ... Neither team had played in AT&T Stadium, the site of the first national championship game in the playoff era, in 2015. ... Arizona State has scored first in 15 of 18 games under coach Todd Graham, including Saturday night.