Gator Bowl

1976

 

Notre Dame 20

Penn State 9

Notre Dame Fight Song

 

Note: Notre Dame and Penn State, the two nationally renowned independents at the time, met for first time since 1928 in the 1976 Gator Bowl. Notre Dame held a 3-0-1 series record having dominated Penn State in the Rockne era.

 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Notre Dame's football team closed out the 1976 season by thinking about 1977. And despite all of Coach Dan Devine's attempts to play it cool whenever next year was mentioned, his players found it difficult to keep from looking ahead to their planned run at the national championship.

 

"It was good to finish with a win," Devine said following Monday night's 20-9 Gator Bowl victory over Penn State, "and it makes for a good start for next season."

 

Making for an even better start is the return of 23 regulars, 20 of whom started against Penn State plus three others who were injured along the way.

 

"It was a great win and it starts us off for next year. " said linebacker Steve Heinkreiter, who helped key a stingy defense that doesn't lose a single starter.

 

Defensive end Ross Browner, winner of the Outland Trophy as the nation's top lineman, called the game a "morale booster for next year. One of the reasons we came to a bowl this year was to get our young people prepared for next year; to be around a bowl atmosphere. We'll be a young team again, but we'll have a lot of maturity."

 

The only players Notre Dame must replace are quarterback Rick Slager and split end Dan Kelleher.

 

"This game will probably project our future for next year," said tight end Ken McAfee, who caught five of Slager's 10 completions for 76 yards. "Everyone looked at this as a must game as far as next year is concerned.''.

 

"I think Michigan and Notre Dame will be the top two teams going into next season," said Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, which also must be considered a contender with 15 starters returning. "Notre Dame had a lot of - juniors this season. Most of our good players were sophomores and freshmen and I'm not so sure we can be really good until 1978."

 

Notre Dame, ranked 15th, wound up with a 9-3 record Penn State, tied for 20th in the final regular season college football poll finished 7-5, the most losses since a 5-5 mark in Paterno's initial campaign as head coach a decade ago.

 

The Nittany Lions took a 3-0 lead on Tony Capozzoli's 28-yard field goal midway through the opening period. It capped a drive from the Penn State 35 to the Notre Dame 10, but that was the only time in the first half the losers advanced beyond their own 32.

 

Al Hunter, who rushed for 102 yards in 26 carries scored twice on one-yard runs and Dave Reeve booted a pair of 23 yard field goals as Notre Dame, helped by costly Penn State penalties, piled up a 20-3 halftone bulge and then turned things over to its big-play defense

 

Linebackers Doug Becker, Ueimtareiter and Bob Golic led the way with 13, 12 and 11 tackles, respectively. Strong safety Jim Browner, Ross' younger brother, knocked down three passes, intercepted one pass in his own end zone and recovered a fumble at the Penn State 23 to set up Reeve's first field goal.

 

"After their first drive, we started to jell," said Heimkreiter. "They stunned us in the beginning, but then we played like we're capable of."

 

A 65-yard kickoff return by Terry Eurick following Penn State's early field goal ignited the Irish offense. A few minutes later, Hunter plowed across the goal line to give the Irish a lead they never surrendered.

 

"I thought Notre Dame played awfully well in the first half," Paterno said. "I didn't realize they were that quick. We were in a hole and never got out of it. That kickoff return had a big effect. We were kicking with the wind and they wind up with a 35-yard drive. We moved the ball as well as anyone has against Notre Dame in the second half, but we couldn't get it in the end zone."

 

The Lions did manage one touchdown but it came on a short pass from Chuck Fusina to Matt Suhey with 8 1/2  minutes left after Bruce Clark blocked a punt at the Notre Dame eight-yard line.

 

Al Hunter had his moment in the sunshine with a 102 yard rushing performance.

 

Rick Slager through for 141 yards in his last game as ND quarterback.

 

The Notre Dame defense pretty well decided things by the half.

 

Attendance- 67,827

 

Scoring Summary

 

First Quarter

PSU- FG Capozzoli 26

ND- Hunter 1 run (Reeve kick)

 

Second Quarter

ND- FG Reeve 23

ND- Hunter 1 run (Reeve kick)

ND- FG Reeve 23

 

Fourth Quarter

PSU- Suhey 8 yard pass from Fusina (Run failed)

 

Individual Statistics

 

Rushing

PSU- Torrey 12-63, Suhey 9-40, Geise 12-36, Cefalo 3-18

ND- Hunter 26-102, Ferguson 10-22

 

Passing

PSU- Fusina 14-33-118

ND- Slager 10-19-141

 

Receiving

PSU- Cefalo 5-60, Suhey 2-17; Rich Mauti 1-21, Donovan, 1-11 Shuler, 1-10 Guman

ND- MacAfee 5-78, Kelleh

 

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