SOUTH BEND, IND., NOV. 20 -- When you expect a miracle, when you are used to a miracle, when it is given to you and then taken away, you can feel only shock and devastation.
Those were the words Notre Dame players used today in describing their feelings after one of the greatest comebacks in the school's storied history crumbled when a walk-on kicker for Boston College split the uprights with a field goal as time expired.
The 41-yard kick by David Gordon, the longest of his career, gave 17th-ranked Boston College an extraordinary 41-39 victory, wiping out a brilliant 22-point offensive by the Irish in the final 10 minutes and capping off one of the wildest finishes ever in college football.
The Irish, who had climbed to the top of the polls just a week ago with a stirring victory over Florida State, finish the regular season 10-1, and instead of jubilantly awaiting word on whether they would face the Seminoles in a bowl rematch, they can only shake their heads as their slim national championship hopes are now wrapped in the fates of others.
"I don't think you can get any lower than we are right now," said senior defensive lineman Jim Flanigan. "The worst thing about it is getting so close and letting it slip away at the end. I'm basically in shock right now."
Pete Bercich, the senior linebacker and emotional on-field leader of the Irish defense, swallowed hard with a glaze in his eyes, still seeing Glenn Foley's pass bounce off his hands during the winning drive.
"I had the ball and I missed it," he said of the pass Foley threw with less than a minute left from Boston College's 25. "It hit me right in my hands. I'm just numb right now."
Instead, Foley hit his favorite target, tight end Pete Mitchell, for 12 yards on a big third down and connected on another six-yard gain before hitting Mitchell again for 24 down to Notre Dame's 33.
Then Foley hit Ivan Boyd on a screen, and the wide receiver bucked and battled his way to the 24, but more importantly for the Eagles, he made it to the center of the field.
"That was critical," Gordon said. "You have no idea how big that play was. It's a lot different than a hash kick. It was like an extra point kick. All I had to do was get the ball up in the air."
It was sweet revenge for the Eagles, who won their eighth straight after losing two, including 22-21 to Northwestern when Gordon missed a 40-yard kick in the closing minute.
Last year, Boston College came into Notre Dame undefeated and was thrashed 54-7, with Irish Coach Lou Holtz faking a punt in the third quarter when his team was up 37-0.
"This year, we realized that they were human beings," said Foley (30 of 48 for 315 yards and four touchdowns). "Last year, we thought they were unstoppable. Offensively, we are as good as anyone in the nation. We can do anything we want to."
Boston College did just that in rolling out to a 38-17 lead with about 11 minutes left. Foley riddled Notre Dame's pass defense and mixed in the run to pile up 477 total yards.
Then the Irish made it a ballgame, scoring three touchdowns in 10 minutes plus a two-point conversion to take a 39-38 lead with 1:09 remaining.
The keys were quarterback Kevin McDougal, who repeatedly found Derrick Mayes over the middle; Lee Becton, who broke an Irish record by rushing for his sixth straight 100-yard game, and Lake Dawson, who made the final touchdown catch on fourth down.
Boston College Coach Tom Coughlin said his Eagles were "shocked and stunned" after Notre Dame took the lead but had time to recover during the long TV timeout after the score.
"It would have been an unbelievable victory," Holtz said. "To be down so far and to come back and have it within your grasp with a minute to go, it's heartbreaking.
"I don't know what else to say, except that we all hurt."