Thursday, January 2, 2003

Gator: North Carolina St. 28, Notre Dame 6

Goal-line stand turns Gator Bowl in Wolfpack favor

By David Droschak
The Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The hit of the 2002 season for North Carolina State fittingly belongs to Dantonio Burnette.

Burnette, the 5-foot-9 senior linebacker who finished his career with 470 tackles, knocked Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holiday out of the Toyota Gator Bowl with a first-quarter tackle on a goal-line stand that helped the Wolfpack beat No. 11 Notre Dame 28-6 Wednesday.

The players said the goal-line stand by the Atlantic Coast Conference's No. 1 defense switched early momentum in N.C. State's favor. After limiting the Fighting Irish to a field goal, the Wolfpack then drove 96 yards to begin a 21-point second quarter to take command.

Holiday hurt his left shoulder on the Burnette hit and never returned as the Wolfpack defense held the Fighting Irish without a touchdown and to 286 total yards. The Notre Dame point total matched its lowest in 25 bowl games.

Holiday, who separated his shoulder on the hit, was heading down the line of scrimmage on an option run when he leaped over a fallen lineman as Burnette came charging from the inside.

"I was thinking I was going to put him on his back," Burnette said. "My eyes got real big when I saw him go airborne. When I hit him I heard him groan and when I looked down he was still on the ground. I was like, 'OK, this is going to turn the game around now."'

Once Holiday was gone, backup Pat Dillingham was no match for a fired-up Wolfpack defense.

"We knew the other quarterback didn't have much experience and when a second-string quarterback comes in we're really going to get after him," Burnette said.

"It was a very big momentum shift," he added. "We really sucked the air out of them. It seemed like their fans couldn't get into it any more after that."

N.C. State (11-3) finished the season without allowing an offensive touchdown in eight quarters against Florida State and Notre Dame.

It doesn't get more impressive than that.

"We go against them every day and we know they're really good," star quarterback Philip Rivers said of his team's defense. "The past two years they took a lot of heat because people said we could score but not stop anybody. This year they really turned it on all year. When your defense is playing great it takes a lot of the pressure off of you."

Notre Dame came in averaging 144 yards a game on the ground, but was held to 86 and was just 4-for-19 on third-down conversions.

"Going into the season a lot of people didn't talk that much about our defense, it was all about our offense," Burnette said. "Our offense deserves a lot of credit, but we went out and played with a chip on our shoulder on defense this year."

What motivated Burnette and his fellow defenders?

"We felt like Notre Dame didn't respect us at all," Burnette said. "It seemed like we were the other team down here all week. At the press conference they asked us like two questions and they asked Notre Dame all the questions. We wanted to go out there and prove to those guys that North Carolina State was one of the better teams in the country."

The Wolfpack practices goal-line plays every Tuesday at practice and have dubbed that time the Chuck Amato Drill.

The defense started the game with one stand and ended with another to demoralize Notre Dame once more as about 35,000 N.C. State fans gave the team a standing ovation.

"Oh gosh, double-A, double-plus," Amato said when asked to grade the goal-line stands. "That first one had the biggest impact on the game."

Another defensive hero was seldom-used defensive back Rod Johnson, who had three interceptions. He came into the game with one career pick, but left Wednesday with the game ball.

"This was a dream game for me," he said. "Coach Amato always has said for us to win a national championship we have to be a great defense. A lot of people around the country saw we are a good defense."

In the end, Notre Dame's offense had to admit it was physically beaten up front.

"Give credit where credit is due," Notre Dame offensive lineman Jim Molinaro said. "They played a better game than we did."

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