2003 Toyota Gator Bowl Recap
NC State 28, Notre Dame 6
The Wolfpack got 2003 off to a stellar start, by soundly defeating the favored Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, 28-6, in the first meeting ever between the two schools. The sellout Gator Bowl crowd of 73,491 was dominated by folks in red, who saw their beloved Pack tally 317 yards of total offense and dominate the Irish on defense.
There were many plays worth mentioning, but the play of the day may have come early in the first quarter, when Wolfpack senior captain Dantonio Burnette nailed Irish signal caller Carlyle Holiday on a second-and-goal play on Notre Dame's second possession. Two downs later, the Irish settled for a 23-yarder field goal attempt, as Holiday was taken to the lockerroom and did not return for the afternoon.
The Wolfpack drew a penalty on the ensuing kickoff return and Philip Rivers and the offense began their second possession of the game on their own four yardline. Twelve plays later, T.A. McLendon romped two yards into the endzone to begin a 21-point quarter for NC State. The drive was highlighted by 19-yard throw to Sterling Hicks and three 11-yard catches by Jerricho Cotchery.
Notre Dame punted on its next possession, giving the ball to the Pack this time at the 24. Long throws to Cotchery and Bryan Peterson highlighted this 11 play drive, and McLendon scored his second TD of the day (18th of the season) on a three-yard run. Once again, Adam Kiker's kick was good.
Senior safety Rod Johnson picked off his first of three passes for the day on the Irish's next drive, putting Rivers and company back on the field at the NDU 48. Senior tight end Joe Gray caught a 29-yarder from Peterson to set up a nine-yard Rivers to Cotchery score to put the Pack up 21-3 at the halftime break.
The Pack was forced to punt on its first possession of the second half and Notre Dame drove steadily down the field on the ensuing possession, getting to the Wolfpack 24 yardline. Once again, Johnson came up big for NC State, picking off backup quarterback Pat Dillingham once again, this time in the endzone.
NC State punted again before the Irish mounted a 10-play, 39 yard drive that ended in a 41-yard field goal. With the score at 21-6, the Notre Dame defense forced the Pack to three-and-out, as an injured McLendon came off the field with an injured shoulder. The Irish faithful in the stands came to life to begin the fourth quarter, but a nine-yard sack on third-down forced the Irish to punt again. This time, a catching interference call gave the Pack the ball at their own 31 and Rivers went to work again.
Rivers completed passes to four different receivers on the next drive, including a 26-yarder to Cotchery on third-and-one before connecting with tight end Sean Berton for a seven-yard score. That ended the scoring for the day at 28-6, but the Pack didn't quit playing.
Johnson pulled down his third interception of the day at midfield on Notre Dame's next drive and on the Irish's final drive of the day, the Pack held on a goalline stand, with backup linebackers Manny Lawson and Oliver Hoyte making key stops.
Rivers finished with 228 yards on a 23-37 passing performance, including 13 straight completions in the first half and two touchdown throws. He was named the bowl MVP for the second time in his three-year career.
McLendon set the school record with his 17th and 18th rushing touchdowns of the season.
ND Setta 23 FG, 4:12, 1st