Freshman Tommy Rees passed for 201 yards and two touchdowns to Michael Floyd as Notre Dame beat Miami, 33-17, in the Sun Bowl yesterday in El Paso, making Brian Kelly the first Fighting Irish coach to win a bowl game in his first season.
After a 20-year break, it was all Irish in the latest installment of a storied rivalry that became known during the 1980s as Catholics versus Convicts.
Notre Dame (8-5) reached the end zone on three of its first four possessions. Rees tossed TD passes of 3 and 34 yards to Floyd, and Cierre Wood broke free on a 34-yard scoring run before David Ruffer added field goals from 40, 50, and 19 yards.
The Irish closed with four victories to cap an up-and-down season under Kelly. After a 1-3 start, they endured the death of the team’s student videographer and the loss of quarterback Dayne Crist to a season-ending injury during a stunning 28-27 loss to Tulsa in South Bend, Ind.
The Irish recovered to beat Utah, Army, and USC down the stretch, then handled Miami (7-6) for Notre Dame’s second straight postseason win. The Hurricanes trailed, 30-3, going into the fourth quarter, completing a season in which their coach was fired with an ugly loss.
Notre Dame’s 30th bowl appearance was a New Year’s Eve fiesta in El Paso, a predominantly Roman Catholic city on the Mexican border that embraced the Irish with huge cheers from the first glimpse of a golden helmet coming from the locker rooms. Rees completed 15 of 29 passes without an interception. His performance marked the first time a first-year starting quarterback at Notre Dame won a bowl game.
Floyd had a big day, too, with six catches for 109 yards receiving, and his numbers would have been even better if he’d brought in what would have been two more TD catches.
Miami scored twice in the fourth quarter when Stephen Morris threw a 6-yard TD pass to Leonard Hankerson and a 42-yard scoring strike to Tommy Streeter, but it was too late.
Florida St. 26, South Carolina 17 — EJ Manuel threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to stop a South Carolina rally and lead the 23d-ranked Seminoles to a victory over the No. 19 Gamecocks in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
Chris Thompson ran for 147 yards and a touchdown and Dustin Hopkins kicked four field goals for the Florida State (10-4), which reached 10 wins for the first time since 2003. Hopkins tied his own school record for a bowl, and the four field goals also matched the Chick-fil-A Bowl record.
Manuel took over for senior quarterback Christian Ponder, who left early in the second quarter after suffering a concussion. South Carolina (9-5) lost freshman star running back Marcus Lattimore when he was hit hard on the Gamecocks’ first drive.
South Florida 31, Clemson 26 — B.J. Daniels threw two TD passes and ran for a third and the Bulls finished coach Skip Holtz’s first season with a victory over the Tigers at the Meineke Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.
Mo Plancher also ran for a score for the South Florida (8-5), which took control after Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker left at halftime with broken ribs. South Florida secured its fifth straight eight-win season and earned its first bowl win over a team from a BCS automatic-qualifying league.
Central Florida 10, Georgia 6 — Latavius Murray scored on a 10-yard TD run with 9:01 left, and the Knights (11-3) held on to beat the Bulldogs (6-7) in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, capping the best season in school history with the program’s first postseason victory.
The Knights had never won more than 10 games in a season and had lost their first three bowl games, including their last visit here in 2007. The Conference USA champs made this win even sweeter by knocking off a Southeastern Conference team in the process.