DALLAS -- Notre Dame's slim hopes for a national championship remained alive, at least for a few hours last night, when the Fighting Irish earned a difficult 24-21 victory over Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Kevin Pendergast kicked a 31-yard field goal with 2:17 to decide it.
Pendergast, a soccer star who dabbles in football, kicked it off the green-dyed Bermuda grass that has been installed here for this summer's World Cup soccer tournament.
Notre Dame's winning drive was set up by a 38-yard punt return from Michael Miller, who took the ball to the Texas A&M; 22.
The day before the game, Irish coach Lou Holtz said he would go back to his hotel afterward and turn on the television. "I always spend the night watching football on television if I possibly can," said Holtz, 5-2 in Irish bowl games. "That's the one way I relax."
The victory gave Notre Dame a final record of 11-1, its only loss at the hands, and feet, of Boston College on a field goal by Scott Gordon in the regular-season finale.
The Aggies, ranked seventh, finished 10-2.
It was Notre Dame's second consecutive victory over A&M; in the Cotton Bowl. It won 28-3 last year.
Notre Dame tailback Lee Becton ran for 138 yards on 26 carries.
Notre Dame scored on the first possession of the game, an impressive drive of 91 yards in 13 plays.
Quarterback Kevin McDougal carried 19 yards on the option to give the Fighting Irish a 7-0 lead with 8:01 remaining in the first quarter.
But the Aggies dominated the rest of the half to take a 14-7 lead.
They scored their first touchdown on an 8-yard run by Greg Hill with 3:56 left in the first quarter.
The second touchdown drive ended with a 15-yard passing play to Defron Smith, who came out of the backfield on a pattern when the Aggies went for it on fourth-and-one from the Notre Dame 15.
The momentum of the game got even better in the third quarter, when Notre Dame scored two touchdowns and the Aggies scored one, and scoreboard said 21-21 as the fourth quarter began.
Notre Dame scored with 10:21 left in the third quarter when Ray Zellars carried over from the 2 to conclude a 51-yard drive.
The Aggies came right back with a nifty drive of 80 yards in 10 plays, the final a dive up the middle from the 1 by Rodney Thomas.
Back came the Irish to tie it again, this time at 21, on a drive of 65 yards in seven plays, the final a 2-yard touchdown run by Marc Edwards.