Irish rain on Hurricanes' title parade, 29-20


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When pressed earlier last week, Miami coach Dennis Erickson predicted that the loser of yesterday's game against Notre Dame could kiss its chances for a national championship goodbye.

Well, pucker up, Hurricanes and plant a nice wet one on that dream of defending a title won a year ago. Notre Dame ended those hopes with a 29-20 victory that even made Irish coach Lou Holtz, the consummate worrywart, gush with goodwill.

"It's a game our players will remember for the rest of their lives," Holtz said. "I know I'll remember it for the rest of my life."

So will Erickson, who became the first Miami coach since 1984 to watch a Hurricane team lose two regular-season games. He also has the distinction of possibly being the last Miami coach to lose to the hated Irish, whose athletic department chose not to renew the series any time soon, at least, not until 2005, when Notre Dame has the next opening in its schedule.

Of course, don't bother asking to see the slide show of Erickson's first road trip to Notre Dame. After what he saw yesterday, Erickson should request that the negatives be destroyed.

Click. There's Miami, the nation's second-ranked team, committing two crucial turnovers in the fourth quarter. Grateful Notre Dame converts the mistakes into 10 points and a win.

"You just can't make the mistakes we made in the second half of the football game and still expect to beat Notre Dame on the road," Erickson said.

Click. There's Miami, ahead, 17-16, at halftime, adding just one field goal in the final 30 minutes.

"We didn't show them much in the first half," Notre Dame linebacker Michael Stonebreaker said. "But we put in more blitzes and man coverages in the second half."

"Coverages they'd never seen before," cornerback Todd Lyght added.

Click. There's Notre Dame's Ismail "Rocket" Raghib turning on afterburners all afternoon. Raghib contributed 268 all-purpose yards to the Irish cause, including a 94-yard kickoff return that Erickson still can't believe.

"We plan against that," he said. "We work like heck against it all week, and then on game day, all of a sudden there's a hole and he's gone."

Click. There's Lyght and Raghib embracing Erickson as the Miami coach leaves the post-game press conference. It is a heartfelt gesture and a classy one, at that.

Maybe Erickson ought to save this slide, after all.

With the victory, sixth-ranked Notre Dame (5-1) zooms back into the national championship picture. The Irish are almost guaranteed to move up to third, maybe second place in the polls this week.

Meanwhile, Miami (4-2) dips back into the teens and out of title contention. The Hurricanes might play on New Year's Day, but it won't be for history. All that ended when quarterback Craig Erickson lofted an ill-advised pass into the hands of Lyght midway through the fourth period. It crippled a comeback by the Hurricanes, who were down 22-20 at the time.

And if that didn't seal it, Miami running back Leonard Conley's fumble at the Notre Dame 2-yard line did. Greg Davis applied the hit, and Stonebreaker cradled the loose ball as if it were precious metal.

But for all the Miami mistakes -- two lost fumbles and two interceptions -- it was Ismail who may have caused the most damage. Ismail would win the Heisman Trophy if the Hurricanes had votes. They watched him weave his way around and past Miami tacklers all afternoon.

"Today, I honestly saw some respect in their eyes," Ismail said.

And fear, too. Each time Miami kicked off, the ball was sent toward the corners and squibbed up the middle.

Except once. And Ismail made Miami pay for the error.

"I remember thinking, 'Why did he kick the ball down the middle?' " Ismail said.

Late in the first quarter, Ismail took the kickoff at the Irish 6, nearly stumbled and fell, caught his balance and then cruised through the coverage. Suddenly a 10-3 Miami lead became a tie score.

"Once I saw the kicker, I knew I had a good chance to take it to the house," he said.

That's Ismail-ese for end zone.

Soon thereafter, Ismail disappeared from the Notre Dame lineup.

0&Miami;, Fla... 10... 7... 0... 3 -- 20

Notre Dame... 10... 6... 6... 7 -- 29

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