Sept. 2, 2000
By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - A handshake and hug from his new athletic director sent Notre Dame coach Bob Davie off the field to a rousing ovation from the crowd.
Before he left, though, Davie walked toward the north end of the stadium and lifted his palms skyward in a "raise the roof" salute to Irish fans.
Notre Dame's first victory in 10 months - a 24-10 win over No. 25 Texas A&M on Saturday - allowed Davie to breathe a huge sigh of relief. With new AD Kevin White calling the shots, Davie started his fourth season knowing his job would be in jeopardy if the Irish failed to get off to a strong start.
It took a while, but Arnaz Battle made his first start a memorable one by throwing the first two touchdown passes of his career, and the Irish defense shut down the Aggies in the second half.
Davie, an assistant at Texas A&M under current Aggies coach R.C Slocum before arriving at Notre Dame, said the game was far from pretty but winning was all that matters.
"It wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination," Davie said, "and I don't know that we played particularly well. But the thing that's really encouraging is we played with a lot of heart and effort."
Battle was 10 of 16 for 133 yards and also carried 12 times for 50 yards as the Irish rolled up 327 yards after a slow start.
"It took a little time for me to get my feet wet, get adjusted and get the bugs out," the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Battle said. "As the game went on, I felt more comfortable throwing."
Battle received a phone call from Jarious Jackson, the quarterback he replaced, on Friday night. "I talked to Jarious and knew I had the opportunity to bring Notre Dame back to where it should be," he said.
Being 1-0 is fine for now, since No. 1 Nebraska is next, followed by Purdue, Michigan State and Stanford.
"We've got a long, long, long way to go in a short period of time because the football team coming in next week is probably as good a team as I've seen in a long time," Davie said of the Cornhuskers, who opened with a 49-13 win over San Jose State. "It's a tremendous challenge for this football team."
Battle had TD passes of 9 yards to Joey Getherall with 1:31 left in the half to tie it at 7-all, and then hit Javin Hunter on a 46-yarder with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter to put the Irish ahead for the first time, 14-10.
Hunter appeared to shove Aggies cornerback Jay Brooks with his left hand before shaking free and grabbing the ball on the goal line.
"I let my team down," Brooks said. "I thought I was pushing him, so then I let off. And when I turned around, I didn't see the ball."
From that point, the Irish took control. Julius Jones ran 17 yards for a fourth-quarter TD and Nick Setta added a 32-yard field goal with 7:17 left. Any hopes for a Texas A&M comeback ended when free safety Tony Driver intercepted a pass by Mark Farris at the Irish 14 with 4:09 remaining.
Notre Dame ended last season with four straight losses for a 5-7 record - its first sub .500 season since 1986. The last win was Oct. 30, 28-24 over Navy.
After Saturday's win, the team sang the school fight song in the locker room, and Davie asked the players if they remembered the words.
With the game tied 7-all at halftime, the Aggies had a fourth-and-goal at the 1 after driving 74 yards, but were called for illegal procedure and settled for Terence Kitchens' 23-yard field goal. On the drive, Irish right end Grant Irons left because he was dehydrated, but after being given intravenous fluids, he returned and played in the final five minutes of the game.
But it was the failed TD drive that fired up the Irish, who went ahead on Battle's hookup with Hunter - the wide receiver's first TD catch.
Farris, the former Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand making his first start for the Aggies, was 16 of 28 for 165 yards and an interception.
"It's disappointing to come up here and let some things slip away," Slocum said. "We didn't take advantage of our chances to score."
In addition to missing out on a TD from the Irish 1, A&M wide receiver Chris Taylor had cornerback Clifford Jefferson beaten on the next series but he dropped a perfect pass by Farris. Earlier, Jefferson had been called for pass interference twice and Davie screamed at him when the player returned to the sideline.
"We still have some huge question marks, like can we cover?" Davie asked. "We had those pass interference penalties and thought they were inexcusable on our part."
With temperatures soaring near 90 degrees and the on-field mark announced at 108 degrees, the teams played the first 30 minutes as if they were winding up two-a-day practices. Even the 150th consecutive sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium had trouble getting into the game.
Texas A&M took a 7-0 lead on Richard Whitaker's 8-yard run 2:06 into the second quarter. Battle drove the Irish 70 yards on seven plays and hit Getherall for a 9-yard TD pass with 1:31 left. On the drive, Battle was 3-of-3 for 43 yards and ran twice for 17 yards.