Upstart Clemson had Notre Dame reeling today, but could not deliver the knockout punch and the Irish arose from a 10-point fourth-quater deficit to escape with a 21-17 decision.
The Irish, looking like anything but challenges for the national championship, were down, 17-7, before they decided to let the gas out of the Tigers' tank. it was almost too late.
Quarterback Joe Montana led Notre Dame on an 84-yard drive that actually covered 119 yards, counting the 35 yards in penalties the Irish were assessed, for the touchdown that made the score 17-14. The tally came on a one-yard run by Montana on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Irish got the winning touchdown on another one-yard run by Montana with seven minutes left to play. That 50-yard drive was set up by a Clemson fumble.
Notre Dame coach Dan Devine said Clemson "has better personnel than Southern California."
He did not have such kind words for the officiating. The Irish were called for seven penalties totaling 98 yards while Clemson was penalized only 10 yards. Devine singled out head linesman W.R. Cummings as "the worst official I've ever seen.The man was a disgrace to college football today. He was incompetent."
Devine was incesed at Cummings because it was that Atlantic Coast Conference official who called a cliping penalty and a produce penalty on Notre Dame while the Irish were driving to their second touchdown and it was Cummings who screened Irish safety Ted Burgmeier away from Clemson's Lester Brown as Brown scored the touchdown that put Tigers on top, 17-7.
At one point, after the clipping penalty, Devine stormed onto the field and confronted Cummings and was slapped with a 15-yard penalty.
"In 25 years as a head coach, that is the first time I have ever been penalized," Devine said.
It was that kind of game.
The Irish were bigger and stronger and showed poise when it was important, but the Tigers still could hoave won this game. Five Clemson turnovers proved costly.
They scored and the first time they had the ball in the third period, but on their next two possessions, fullback Ken Callicutt fumbled away the ball at the Notre Dame 33 and 13.
The Irish took his second fumble and started their long march that got them to within three points. Then Clemson quater Steve Fuller fumbled at midfield and the Irish converted that into the winning touchdown.
Notre Dame had little trouble moving to a 7-0 first-quarter lead on a five-yard run by Jerome Heavens, but the Irish were having trouble containing Clemson's imaginative offense. The Tigers are basically an option team, but they run it from the Information and they like to throw the ball, too. They had the Irish in a tizzy in the second quater, rolling up 10 points, and would have had more had not Fuller thrown an ill-advised pass from the Notre Dame 12 that was intercepted with 22 seconds left in the first half.
Clemson score on a 30-yard field goal from Obed Ariri early in the quarter and on a 10-yard Fuller run with six minutes left in the half. The Tigers moved the ball at will against Notre Dame the entire quarter.
"We just missed a few assigments and they capitalized on them," said Irish defensive end Ross Browner. "We were overreacting a lot and it took us a while to settle down."
While Clemson was marching up and down the field in the second quarter, much to the delight of the Memorial Stadium record crowd 54.189, the Irish were a laughing stock.
They ran 10 plays from sceimmage in the period for minus x5 yards.
"We can't score everything we get the ball," said Montana.
The victory improved Notre Dame to 3-1 and dropped Clemson tolu-2-1, the other loss coming at the hands of Maryland in the season opener.
"The whole story boiled down to the fumbles in the third period and in fumbles in the third period and in field position," said Clemson coach Charley Pell. "We couldn't sustain our drives and turned the ball over and that's the story of the game."