In one of the biggest upsets in college football history, Notre Dame lost its home opener to perennial Big Ten doormat Northwestern, 17-15, today.
Although the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish were coming off a 6-5-1 season, the magnitude of the upset was highlighted by the contrasting history of the schools.
Entering the season, Notre Dame had the highest winning percentage of any major school (.760), the most national championships (eight) and the most Heisman Trophy winners (seven). Northwestern had one of the lowest winning percentages of any team (.418) and owns the Division I-A record for most consecutive losses, 34 from 1979-82.
"I expected this to happen," said Northwestern Coach Gary Barnett, whose team was a 28-point underdog. "It's just got to send a message to everybody that our kids can play with anybody, and I think we just did."
Notre Dame pulled to 17-15 on a two-yard touchdown run by Randy Kinder with 6 minutes 15 seconds left, but failed on the two-point conversion when quarterback Ron Powlus tripped over a teammate's foot and fell while dropping back.
The Irish had one more shot, but Kinder slipped on fourth-and-two at his own 44 with about four minutes remaining and Northwestern ran out the clock in the season opener for both teams.
Northwestern players celebrated on the field after breaking a 14-game losing streak to Notre Dame. Irish players and fans appeared stunned.
"We don't ever think about losing here," Irish Coach Lou Holtz said.
It was Northwestern's first win over Notre Dame since 1962, when future Irish coach Ara Parseghian coached the Wildcats. It also was Notre Dame's first loss in a home opener since 1986, when Michigan won 24-23 in Holtz's first game as Irish coach.
The Wildcats took charge early, recovering Kinder's fumble near the 50-yard line with 11:47 to go in the first quarter. Northwestern moved inside the 10 after runs by Darnell Autry, and the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead when Steve Schnur connected with Dave Beazley in the end zone.
The Wildcats didn't let up in the second half, sacking Powlus on the first series and forcing Notre Dame to punt. Schnur wasted no time in getting Northwestern into the end zone again, needing just three plays in 55 seconds.
After being held for no gain, Autry broke two tackles and rushed for 29 yards before stepping out of bounds at the Notre Dame 26. Schnur then hit D'Wayne Bates in the end zone and Northwestern had a 17-9 lead with 12:02 left in the third quarter.
The momentum appeared to swing back to the Irish when nose guard Paul Grasmanis sacked Schnur on his own 6-yard line with about 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. That forced Paul Burton to punt from the end zone, and the Irish started from Northwestern's 46. The drive ended with Kinder's touchdown run.
Although Notre Dame outgained Northwestern 371-321, the Irish couldn't come up with the big plays. Several of their drives were stopped one or two yards short of a first down, and a point-after attempt by Kevin Kopka that would have tied the game at 10 with 2:35 to go in the first half went wide right.
Meanwhile, Northwestern's offensive line broke open big holes for Autry, and the sophomore running back managed to scratch extra yardage out of almost every play. He ended the day with 160 yards on 33 carries.
Powlus was sacked four times, and he faced heavy pressure on almost every play. Powlus was 17 of 26 for 175 yards, while Schnur was 14 of 28 for 166 yards.