SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The madness of this entire autumn was frozen late yesterday afternoon on a patch of worn grass in the north end of Notre Dame Stadium. Gathering darkness, November chill, gold helmets -- "Football at its finest," said Boston College quarterback Glenn Foley -- and the rich, sweet flavors of redemption and shock.
Eight days ago, not 5 yards from this spot -- in the Game of the Century, no less -- the mortal lock Heisman Trophy winner could not beat Notre Dame on the last play of an epic game. Florida State's speed and talent, Charlie Ward . . . not enough. And Notre Dame became No. 1.
So yesterday, David Gordon, a waifish preppie who was MVP of two high school teams (soccer, tennis), and who, according to Foley, two years ago "couldn't even get the ball off the ground," kicked a low knuckleball 41 yards as time expired, giving Boston College a 41-39 victory over Notre Dame.
Gordon's kick silenced the Notre Dame fans, who had seen the Fighting Irish rush back from a 38-17 fourth-quarter deficit to take a 39-38 lead on Kevin McDougal's 4-yard, fourth-down TD pass to Lake Dawson with 69 seconds to play.
"We are all absolutely in shock right now," said Notre Dame defensive tackle Jim Flanigan, who just two days ago was featured in celebration on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The fallout was thick and substantial. Primarily, this:
* Notre Dame (10-1, and finished for the regular season), which held the national title in its sacred mitts 24 hours ago, is now all but out of it.
* Boston College (8-2), which came in ranked No. 17, now plays West Virginia Friday for a share of the Big East title and a place in some prominent bowl. And most of all, the Eagles answered the immeasurable humiliation of losing here last year, 54-7. It was an embarrassing loss that stained BC's 7-3-1 resurgence.
"I went home last January and people would say 'Yeah, you guys had a pretty good season, but you got your butts kicked by Notre Dame,' " said linebacker Stephen Boyd.
Foley, who was sacked four times and completed 11 of 28 passes a year ago, said: "All I know is they beat us, 54-7, and I think they kind of rubbed it in [with a fake punt late in the game]. The only time I had any respect for Lou Holtz was when he said [in jest, last Sunday] that BC was the No. 1 team in the country."
It was Foley who brought BC back in the final minute, part of a day on which he completed 30 of 48 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns, but also twice fumbled snaps in the fourth quarter, setting up Notre Dame's last two touchdowns.
On the last drive, which began at the BC 25 after Notre Dame was called for a personal foul on the kickoff, Foley threw two incompletions and then hit four of five passes, to reach the Notre Dame 24 with five seconds left.
Gordon, a left-footed senior who had missed his only two previous game-winning attempts, swung through and hit a wobbly shot that barely cleared Notre Dame safety Jeff Burris.
"I didn't hit it very well, I knew that," Gordon said.
Notre Dame players lay on the ground, so near where they had celebrated a week earlier that it was eerie. They had been lackluster for much of the game. But Holtz expected his team to be flat. "I felt we would work our way into the competitiveness of the game," he said.
"To come back like that and then to lose, it's heart-breaking," Holtz said, "It was a devastating loss."
For BC and most of all for coach Tom Coughlin, the authoritarian who turned down an opportunity to take over the New York Giants last January, the victory is full of validation and revenge. Coughlin told them after the game to stay cool, to remember that West Virginia remains.
But when Coughlin was asked if his highest high and lowest low had taken place in this stadium, he said, "That's safe."
And outside the stadium, Notre Dame defensive tackle Bryant Young chewed on the crash of a season.
"We had a lot going for ourselves, being 10-0," Young said. "We had a lot to look forward to."
Boston College 10 14 7 10 -- 41
Notre Dame 0 14 3 22 -- 39