College Football

Fighting Irish outlast Gamecocks in highest scoring Gator Bowl

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Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner hands the ball off to running back Logan Diggs during Friday’s Taxslayer Gator Bowl. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

A 16-yard touchdown reception by receiver Mitchell Evans gave the No. 21 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish a 45-38 victory over the No. 19 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in front of 67,383 at the TIAA Bank Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday. It was the highest scoring game in Gator Bowl history, which dates back to 1946.

The Gamecocks received the opening kickoff and then immediately went to work against the Fighting Irish defense. South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler led his team on a 10-play 75-yard drive that ended when receiver Xavier Legette scored on a 13-yard reception for the touchdown. Kicker Mitch Jeter’s extra point was good, giving the Gamecocks an early 7-0 lead with 11:48 left in the first quarter.

Notre Dame struggled on their first possession. Quarterback Tyler Buchner threw a screen pass to receiver Lorenzo Styles, who dropped the pass. Running back Logan Diggs ran up the middle for two yards, and then Buchner threw another incomplete pass, this time intended for receiver Jayden Thomas. Jon Sot came on for his first punt of the day.

The Gamecocks were on their fourth play of the next possession when receiver Ahmarean Brown hauled in a four-yard reception at the South Carolina 49-yard line. He was in the process of moving the ball from one hand to the other when it slipped out. Notre Dame safety Ramon Henderson recovered the fumble at midfield.

Buchner hit Mitchell Evans for an 18-yard reception, which was followed by one for 11 yards by Jaden Thomas on the next play, which brought Notre Dame into the Red Zone for their first time in the game. Buchner, working on 3rd-and-9, scampered 15 yards into the end zone for the touchdown. Blake Grupe’s extra point was good, which tied the score 7-7 with 5:54 remaining in the first quarter. The drive went 10 plays for 50 yards and took 3:37 off the clock.

South Carolina long snapper Hunter Rogers hauls in a 23-yard touchdown pass by punter Kai Kroeger in the first quarter of Friday’s TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

South Carolina answered with their 10 play, 75 yard drive over the next 3:27. Tight End Nate Adkins hauled two catches for 27 yards to get the Gamecocks into Notre Dame territory. On 4th-and-8, South Carolina lined up for a field goal attempt. Instead of the field goal, the ball was snapped to punter Kai Kroeger, who threw a 23-yard pass to long snapper Hunter Rogers in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Mitch Jeter’s extra point gave the Gamecocks a 14-7 lead with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter.

The Fighting Irish resumed like they left off. Wide receiver Braden Lenzy caught a pass for 13 yards. Running back Audric Estime carried up the middle for five yards. On 3rd-and-4 from the Notre Dame 44, Buchner threw a pass intended for Lenzy. It was picked off by South Carolina defensive back D.Q. Smith at the Notre Dame 47-yard line and returned to the end zone for the Pick 6 touchdown. Jeter’s extra point was good and the Gamecocks extended their lead to 21-7 with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.

Notre Dame fought on beginning at their 25-yard line. Jayden Thomas picked up 29 yards on two receptions, running back Chris Tyree rushed twice for 14 yards, and Buchner scrambled for a 21 yard gain to put the Fighting Irish in scoring position. Notre Dame was on the South Carolina 7-yard line when defensive lineman Alex Huntley sacked Buchner for a 12-yard loss on 3rd-and-goal. Blake Grupe kicked a 37-yard field goal to make the score 21-10 with 8:36 left in the half. The Fighting Irish took 7:08 off the clock on their drive, which covered 56 yards on 12 plays.

After running two rushing plays to running back Christian Beal-Smith for six yards, the Gamecocks went back to the aerial attack with three short yardage completions. Wide receiver Dakereon Joyner hauled in a 26-yard reception to put South Carolina on the Notre Dame 33. Jeter kicked a 45-yard field goal with 5:18 remaining in the half to give the Gamecocks a 24-10 lead.

The ensuing kickoff was booted out-of-bounds for a touchback, giving the Fighting Irish the ball on their own 25-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Buchner passed to Logan Diggs at the line of scrimmage. Diggs ran around the right side of the line into and open field and scampered 75-yards for the touchdown. The Blake Grupe extra point was good and the Gamecocks lead was cut to six, 24-17 with 5:06 remaining in the half.

Neither team could get into a rhythm on their next possession, which forced both teams to punt.

Spencer Rattler ran a hurry-up offense for South Carolina, which started their last drive of the half on their own 20-yard line. Now battling the clock and the yardage situation, Rattler threw completions to Beal-Smith and Ahmarean Brown who combined for 12 yards to give some breathing room. Rattler scrambled twice for an additional 18 yards with the ball at midfield.

South Carolina Gamecocks wide receiver Xavier Legette turns the corner while evading Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety D.J. Brown during the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Friday. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

After a three-yard completion to Legette, Rattler threw a deep pass intended for wide receiver Blake O’Mega, which was intercepted by cornerback Benjamin Morrison at the Notre Dame 19 with four seconds left in the half. The Fighting Irish elected to kneel down instead of running a play, and the Gamecocks led 24-17 at the half.

When the game resumed after the intermission break, both teams went three-and-out on their first possession with a combined six plays for five yards taking 2:11 off the clock.

Then Notre Dame decided to stick with the running game. Audric Estime carried three times for 32 yards. Jaden Thomas caught a pass for 25 yards, and then Buchner rushed to the left side on a quarterback keeper for an 11-yard touchdown run. Blake Grupe’s extra point tied the score 24-24 with 10:28 left in the third quarter. The Fighting Irish ran five plays for 68 yards, taking 2:21 off the clock.

Not to be outdone, the Gamecocks answered with a strike of their own. Receptions of six yards by Xavier Legette and 17 yards by Nate Adkins set up deep strike to Legette for a 42-yard touchdown reception. Jeter’s extra point gave South Carolina a 31-24 lead with 8:31 left in the third quarter. It was a five play, 67-yard drive that took 1:48 off the clock.

Notre Dame began their next possession on their 25-yard line with two carries by Logan Diggs for six total yards. Then on 3rd-and-4, Buchner threw a shovel pass intended for Jayden Thomas which was intercepted by Gamecocks defensive lineman Nick Barrett.

South Carolina took over at the Notre Dame 41-yard line, but after a completion for no gain to Dakereon Joyner and two incomplete passes, the Gamecocks punted.

The Fighting Irish ran eight plays for 32-yards on their next possession, but found themselves in a 4th-and-3 situation near midfield and punted. The Gamecocks were no better and after another three-and-out, they, too, punted back to Notre Dame with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.

Notre Dame cornerback Benjamin Morrison intercepts a pass thrown by South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler with four seconds remaining in the first half of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Friday. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Irish got the ball back on the Gamecocks 44-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Buchner passed deep left to Braden Lenzy, who caught the ball on the eight-yard line and ran it in for the touchdown. After Grupe’s extra point, the game was tied once again, this time 31-31 with 31 seconds left in the quarter.

South Carolina increased their urgency on their next drive. Spencer Rattler threw two incomplete passes and was then sacked by linebacker Jordan Botelho for a four-yard loss, which ended the quarter. Kai Kroeger booted a 52-yard punt on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame nearly went three-and-out. Facing 4th-and-4 from their own 33, the Fighting Irish got the first down and more when tight end Davis Sherwood threw a shovel pass to Braden Lenzy around the right side for a 20-yard completion on the fake punt. Buchner rushed left for eight yards on a quarterback keeper. On 2nd-and-2 from the South Carolina 39-yard line, Logan Diggs found a hole in the middle of the line and ran to daylight for the touchdown. The Fighting Irish now led 38-31 after Grupe’s extra point, with 12:41 remaining in regulation.

Sensing an opportunity to put the game away, the Notre Dame defense stepped up their game and shut down the Gamecocks in three consecutive running plays. It was another three-and-out for South Carolina, who was now playing the clock and their opponent.

Now it was Notre Dame’s turn to work the clock and try to put the game out of reach. Outside of a six-yard catch by Logan Diggs, Buchner ran for 21 yards on three carries, while Estime rushed left for 26-yards putting the ball on the Gamecocks seven-yard-line.

South Carolina defensive lineman Nick Barrett intercepts a tipped pass that was thrown by Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner in the third quarter of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Friday. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Buchner passed to Mitchell Evans, but O’Donnell Fortune stepped in front of it on the goal line for the interception and ran it back 100 yards for the touchdown. Jeter’s point after tied the score at 38-38 with 7:42 left in the final frame.

Now it went back to the Irish again. Starting from their 20, Notre Dame ran 12 plays, covered 80 yards and took 6:01 off the clock, mainly through running plays, on their next drive. Buchner passed to Mitchell Evans who was wide open with nobody around at the South Carolina 7-yard line. He practically walked into the end zone for the easy touchdown. After the extra point, the Fighting Irish now led 45-38 with only 1:38 remaining on the clock.

The Gamecocks had to march 87 yards downfield for the touchdown in order to tie the game up again. Rattler knew that the margin for error was thin when he stepped on the field for his final drive.

First came a 9-yard pass to Dakereon Joyner. Then an 11-yard throw to running back Juju McDowell to move the chains to the South Carolina 33-yard line. Rattler rushed for 18-yards on a quarterback keeper. After the play, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylen Sneed was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for unnecessary roughness, which tacked on an additional 15 yards from the end of the play. The ball was now on the Notre Dame 34-yard line.

After an incomplete pass, Rattler was sacked by Rylie Mills for a one-yard loss. However, the officials flew the flag on Rattler for intentional grounding.

The Hail Mary pass thrown by South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler was unsuccessful. It forced a turnover on downs, which essentially ended the game. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

This pushed the Gamecocks back to the Notre Dame 45 for 3rd-and-21. Rattler threw another incomplete pass, this one intended for Joyner. The officials threw a late flag again, this time on Gamecocks running back Juju McDowell for unsportsmanlike conduct, pushing them back 15 yards further.

On 4th-and-36 with 20 seconds left on the clock, Rattler and the Gamecocks had one last ditch effort to salvage their game and their season. After scrambling for a few seconds and nearly getting sacked, Rattler let out a heave-ho which was nearly caught by Antwane Wells Jr., at the 10-yard line, but it was batted away. The Gamecocks turned the ball over on downs. The Irish kneeled down for the game’s final play, securing the 45-38 win in the highest scoring game in Gator Bowl history.

Rattler led South Carolina in passing with 29 completions on 46 attempts for a 63 percent conversion percentage. Rattler passed for two touchdowns, 246 yards and one interception. He was sacked three times and had a quarterback rating of 118.0.

Juju McDowell led South Carolina in rushing with six attempts for 28 yards. Rattler added 27 yards on seven attempts on the ground. Xavier Legette caught seven passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns, while Nate Adkins added five catches also for 78 yards. Hunter Rogers caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from punter Kai Kroeger.

Buchner led the Fighting Irish with 18-for-33 passing, a 55 percent completion percentage, with 274 yards passing, three touchdowns and three interceptions, including the 100-yard pick six by O’Donnell Fortune and a 47-yard pick six by D.Q. Smith.

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner (#12) was named the most valuable player in the 2022 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Friday. Notre Dame linebacker Eli Raridon looks on. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“I’m extremely proud of this team, the leaders, the seniors, and to send that group off the right way, it’s very pleasing,” said Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman. “I told them they’ll be the example we use for a long time because this is what real life is about, the ability to respond to some of those situations that happened to you.”

“Certainly we had our opportunities. When you score twice on defense, you ought to win the football game, and had some sloppiness out there certainly at times, but just so proud of our football team,” said South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer. “We’ve got a hurting group of guys that left it all out there and played for one another, and it’s special what we have in that locker room.”

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner said, “The game we played was great. We won the game, and I couldn’t be happier, but for me personally, I didn’t play to the standard I wanted to play. I think I accounted for two extra touchdowns that I didn’t mean to account for.”

“The big guys played their tails off. Its great standing there in the huddle… they’re strapping their gloves, they’re ready to go. Having that look in their eyes gives you more confidence as a quarterback that we’re going to be able to run this ball,” Buchner added.

South Carolina finishes the season with an 8-5 record while Notre Dame improved to 9-4 in their final game of the year.

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