It was like one of those fights where the heavyweight takes a beating for 14 rounds and lands a roundhouse knockout punch in the 15th.
Or an NBA game where the first three periods don’t matter, it’s all decided in the final two minutes.
Michigan’s football team outscored Notre Dame, 28-7 in the final quarter Saturday night to score a thrilling 35-31 victory in the first home night game in the school’s history in front of a record crowd of 114,804.
“We were confident we were going to win the game,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “When you have No. 16 on your side you’re never out of it. He’s going to find a way to make plays to enable you to win.”
No. 16, of course, is quarterback Denard Robinson. Although he completed only 11 of 24 passes and had three interceptions, he made big plays, especially in the fourth quarter. Robinson threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 108 yards and another score.
The game was decided with eight seconds to play when Robinson found Roy Roundtree in the end zone for the victory. Michigan had a first and 10 from the 16 and Hoke decided to go for the win rather than the field goal that would have tied the game and forced overtime.
“We had two timeouts left and figured even if he (Robinson) gets tackled we still have a timeout and then could go for the field goal,” Hoke said. “But maybe we go for the win another time, too. Hey, the name of the game is to win the ballgame.”
Michigan took the lead with 1:12 to play when Robinson found Vince Smith on a 16-yard flair pass and the running back eased down the sideline. Notre Dame marched back down 61 yards in four plays, after a short kickoff, to retake the lead 31-29, when Irish quarterback Tommy Rees found Theo Riddick all alone for a 29-yard score.
Notre Dame outgained Michigan, 513-452 In total offense and Rees was 27 of 39 for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver Michael Floyd caught 13 for 159 yards.
Notre Dame was hurt by five turnovers, while Michigan had two. The Irish, 0-2, have lost 10 turnovers in two games.
Michigan’s defense was pushed around all night as Rees continually picked on Michigan defender J.T. Floyd.
So why was Hoke so confident Michigan would win?
“We’ve worked on the two-minute drill maybe a thousand times since I took over as coach in January,” he said. “We knew what to do.”
Michigan’s wide receivers seem to have butterfingers early but made big plays down the stretch. Jeremy Gallon caught a touchdown and made a big play to set up Smith’s score and Junior Hemingway scored Michigan’s first touchdown on a bending, spinning catch. He had 165 yards on three catches.
“They’re human beings,” Hoke said of his receivers. “I think we had three drops in the first half that would have moved the chains for us.”
In addition, Hoke said his team’s running backs, except for Robinson, “lacked vision.”
Hoke said his team “has a lot to work on,” and when asked if his team is close to where they should be, he quickly answered.
“No,” he said. “We set the bar pretty high here at Michigan. We have a lot of work to do.”
But Hoke added, “it was exciting to win.”
The game was dubbed an instant classic by ESPN and marked the third straight year Michigan and Notre Dame went down to the final 30 seconds before deciding the outcome. And the Wolverines have won three straight from the Irish.
“Every time these two teams play,” said Robinson, “it’s never over until you see 0:00 on the clock.”
For more info: mgoblue, annarbor.com, espn