CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -North Carolina started the second half with an interception return for a touchdown and sealed the
game with a last-second fumble recovery. In between the
did just enough to beat Notre Dame for the first time in a generation.
scored on a leaping 4-yard keeper to start the fourth quarter and
had the momentum-changing 32-yard interception return to help the No. 22
29-24 on Saturday, providing another boost to coach Butch Davis' rebuilding effort.
(5-1), off to their best start since going 8-0 in 1997, beat the
(4-2) for the first time since 1960.
had nine catches for 141 yards and freshman walk-on
kicked three field goals, helping North Carolina rally from an 11-point first-half deficit.
' offense failed to reach the end zone in the first half while their defense struggled to slow
and the Notre Dame passing game. But their knack for forcing turnovers - four after halftime - was enough to help them hang
on in a game that came down to a wild finish.
''It takes everybody buying in,'' Davis said. ''Our kids have got a lot of fight, a lot of perseverance and keep scratching
to try and find a way to win.''
North Carolina came in ranked for the first time in seven years, and playing at home as a ranked team for the first time in
a decade, a sign of how badly things have gone since
departed for Texas after the '97 season.
It was also Notre Dame's first game in the state of North Carolina since unheralded sophomore Joe Montana led a comeback win
here in 1975.
The teams certainly provided a memorable finish, with Notre Dame reaching the North Carolina 7 in the final seconds before
officials ruled - after a review - that receiver
fumbled the ball in what appeared to be a frantic attempted lateral.
recovered, giving the ball back to North Carolina for a joyous kneel-down with 3 seconds left.
Clausen threw for a career-best 383 yards - his third straight career game - and touchdowns to
and Floyd that helped the Irish take a 17-9 halftime lead.
Notre Dame finished with 472 yards, but couldn't overcome two interceptions and two lost fumbles in the second half.
''I told them it's a different team than I've seen in the last year and change,'' Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. ''That
team in there today expected to win. They didn't come here hoping to win. ... The reason they feel really bad is because they're
starting to get it. This is not the same team that everyone saw at the beginning of the year.''
went most of the way without big-play receiver and returner
, who sprained his right knee in the first quarter. Nicks picked up the slack with another big day against the Irish after
tallying six catches for 171 yards and a score against them two years ago in South Bend. Converted safety
added his second straight solid game, finishing with 91 yards rushing on 17 carries.
Sexton, the one-time third stringer filling in for injured starter T.J. Yates, threw for 201 yards. But he made his biggest
play with his feet, scrambling right on third down and jumping through a hit from
at the goal line for the 29-24 lead with 14:55 to play.
''We don't get real rah-rah in the locker room,'' Sexton said. ''We're a pretty composed team, and we just kind of stick to
what we do, keep doing it and it's going to come around. We're not going to panic and freak out and draw plays in the sand.''
Clausen looked sharp most of the day behind a line that gave him plenty of time. But the sophomore made three costly second-half
It started when Sturdivant jumped in front of
for the pick on Clausen's first pass. The 32-yard return cut the deficit to 17-16. Later in the period,
stripped Clausen and recovered the fumble to set up the go-ahead drive. Then, after the Irish had driven to North Carolina's
36 with about 5 minutes left,
picked off Clausen on the right side to set up a drive that took 3 minutes off the clock.
North Carolina - which came into the game leading the nation with 12 interceptions - also recovered a fumbled kickoff late
in the first half and did not committ a turnover.
''(Defensive coordinator Everett Withers) stresses to us all week during practices to just be in the right spots and turnovers
will come,'' Mullins said. ''Just do the little things: 'Don't bite the cheese,' he always says. Just wait for it and the
interceptions and picks will come to you.''
Once Notre Dame got the ball back at its own 18 with 1:47 to play, Clausen guided one more drive, pushing to the North Carolina
33 with 11 seconds left before finding Floyd over the middle on what turned out to be the Irish's final play.
''I just wanted one more chance to help this team win,'' Clausen said. ''Too many mistakes to be able to win a big game like