Two fourth quarter interceptions and 18 unanswered points from Florida State cost Notre Dame a chance at victory in an 18-14 loss to the Seminoles in the Champs Sports Bowl Thursday night in Orlando. The Irish led 14-0 in the second half, but FSU scored the next 18 points helped by a costly interception and poor offensive play by the Irish.
Tommy Rees struggled again going just 15-25 for 143 yards with a touchdowns and two picks. Sophomore Andrew Hendrix didn’t fare any better completing only 4-9 for 43 yards and an interception. Michael Floyd, in his last game, caught five passes for 41 yards and a score and missed the final few possessions for the Irish after suffering an injury.
The first half was a defensive specialty. Notre Dame’s best drive of the half came on their first possession when they took the ball all the way to the Seminole four yard line before Rees had his pass tipped and picked off in the endzone. The Irish defense responded, however, scoring the only points of the half when Zeke Motta scooped up a fumble and raced 29 yards for the touchdown giving Notre Dame the 7-0 lead.
The rest of the half saw both teams miss big opportunities. David Ruffer missed a 48-yard field goal attempt and Michael Floyd dropped a huge pass that could have been a touchdown while Florida State never could get an offense going with the ND defense hounding quarterback EJ Manuel sacking him four times and knocking him down another five times.
The second half proved to be a little better for the offenses. The Irish took the opening kickoff and drove 62 yards in eight plays taking a 14-0 lead when Rees hit Floyd who made a juggling catch for the score. FSU would respond with a field goal and trailed 14-3 heading into the fourth quarter.
Like the Michigan game, Florida State opened the fourth quarter with a touchdown on the first play when Manuel connected with Bert Reed for an 18-yard score. The Seminoles went for two and missed it leaving them down 14-9. They’d be right back in the endzone five plays later, however, as Hendrix threw his interception right to Nigel Bradham who returned it to the Irish 18. Two plays after that Manuel found Rashad Greene for a 15-yard touchdown to give FSU a 15-14 lead after missing another two-point try.
Florida State added a field goal on their next possession taking they 18-14 lead with 8:05 remaining. Notre Dame’s best chance came two possessions later when a short field left them with a 1st-and-10 on the FSU 28. Rees’ turnover bug stung him again though as he tossed another interception in the endzone with 2:48 left all but closing the door on the Irish hopes for victory. Florida State was able to run the clock down to 24 seconds giving ND only a couple of desperation chances, but falling woefully short.
The loss gives the Irish a final record of 8-5 matching last year’s mark. Now it’s onto recruiting and a long nine month wait until the 2012 season kicks off.