Under the guidance of Sam Hartman, 11th-ranked Notre Dame secures a heart-pounding 21-14 victory against 17th-ranked Duke.

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Sam Hartman, Notre Dame’s quarterback, showcased his prowess by orchestrating a critical 95-yard drive in the final minutes of the game against Duke on Saturday. (Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Determined not to fall short in another high-stakes match, the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish took the field after suffering a heart-wrenching last-second defeat to Ohio State at home just a week prior. This time, they were on the road facing the 17th-ranked Duke, and they delivered a nail-biting 21-14 victory.

After squandering a 13-0 lead, Notre Dame found themselves trailing 14-13 as Duke mounted a comeback with only 9:17 left on the clock. The Fighting Irish struggled offensively for most of the game, and the situation looked dire when Duke managed to pin Sam Hartman and the Irish offense at their own 5-yard line with a mere 2:35 remaining.

However, Hartman refused to accept defeat.

The ACC’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, thanks to his tenure at Wake Forest, Hartman’s defining moment of the night came courtesy of his exceptional agility. With less than a minute left in regulation, Notre Dame faced a daunting fourth-and-16 from the Duke 47.

Hartman dropped back to pass, finding no open receivers. Undeterred, the sixth-year senior decided to take matters into his own hands and made a daring run. Fully aware that a significant collision was imminent, Hartman fearlessly dove into a sea of defenders, securing a crucial 17 yards for a first down and reigniting Notre Dame’s hopes.

After Hartman’s crucial run, the Irish positioned themselves for a potential field goal attempt but Audric Estime had other plans. Breaking through the Duke defensive line, he unleashed a spectacular 30-yard touchdown run. This remarkable play concluded a gutsy 95-yard drive and ultimately secured the game for Notre Dame.

With a successful two-point conversion, Duke and quarterback Riley Leonard were granted one final chance with 31 seconds left to force overtime. However, the Notre Dame defense executed a strip-sack on Leonard, effectively sealing the hard-fought victory.

This triumph propelled Notre Dame to a 5-1 record, ensuring their College Football Playoff aspirations stayed alive. Additionally, the Fighting Irish extended their impressive winning streak in regular season matchups against ACC opponents to an astounding 30 games.

Duke had the opportunity to achieve a 5-0 start for the first time since 1994, but instead, the Blue Devils slipped to a 4-1 record.

Notre Dame Establishes Lead, Yet Offense Encounters Challenges Notre Dame’s initial offensive possession saw them execute a fake punt to set up Estime’s touchdown run. However, this would be the only time they reached the end zone until Estime’s game-clinching score in the final minutes.

Struggling to connect drives, the Irish, hampered by injuries to key receivers, faced significant challenges. They managed field goal drives in the second and third quarters, but moving the ball proved to be a formidable task. The Blue Devils honed in on Estime and the Notre Dame running game. Prior to his pivotal 30-yard dash for the game-winner, he had only amassed 42 yards on 16 carries.

This created considerable pressure for Hartman. Tight end Mitchell Evans emerged as the lone Notre Dame receiver consistently able to create separation. Evans recorded six receptions for an impressive 134 yards, while the rest of Notre Dame’s receiving corps combined for just nine catches totaling 88 yards.

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Audric Estim√© of Notre Dame (7) breaks past Duke’s Terry Moore (23) for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In the first half, Duke managed to put together a few promising drives but faltered with two missed field goals, including a 25-yard attempt just before halftime. As the game progressed, the Blue Devils began to exert pressure on the Notre Dame defensive line. While Duke may not boast many standout offensive weapons, their strength lies in a seasoned offensive line and an adept dual-threat quarterback in Leonard.

Although Leonard completed just 12 of 27 passes for 134 yards, his impressive 88 rushing yards played a pivotal role in wearing down Notre Dame’s defense. His sole touchdown pass of the game came on a crucial third-and-goal play from the 3-yard line in the fourth quarter, propelling Duke to a 14-13 lead with 9:17 remaining. However, it proved insufficient as Notre Dame orchestrated a remarkable 95-yard touchdown drive to secure the victory.

What Lies Ahead for Notre Dame?

With a record of 5-1, Notre Dame appears poised for a season filled with tightly contested matchups. While there are many commendable aspects of this Notre Dame team, they may encounter offensive challenges against opponents they cannot overpower in the running game. The absence of key receivers against Duke highlighted the team’s need for top-tier pass-catchers, a notable vulnerability.

Looking ahead, the upcoming schedule presents a formidable series of challenges. Next Saturday, the Irish will face a prime-time matchup on the road against Louisville. The Cardinals, now 5-0, recently secured a victory against NC State on Friday.

Following that, Notre Dame will host the 8th-ranked USC on Oct. 14, followed by a trip to Clemson on Nov. 4. Given the recent setback against Ohio State, the Irish must navigate the remainder of the season with precision, as there is little room for error if they hope to contend for a national championship.




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