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Notre Dame Coach Marcus Freeman’s First Win Came Down to A Single Play

Notre Dame fans, you can collectively release the breath you were likely holding. 

The Fighting Irish had started the Marcus Freeman era 0–3 heading into Saturday’s matchup against Cal, dating back to Notre Dame’s bowl game. After last Saturday’s loss to Marshall, the program is the third team since 2000 to lose its first two games after being a preseason top 5-ranked squad, according to ESPN Stats & Info

But now, Notre Dame sits at 1–2 after narrowly escaping Cal, 24–17. It wasn’t pretty. The passing game seemed to be a hit-or-miss all day, and it was one Hail Mary away from either facing overtime or losing by a single point in those final seconds. 

“We find a way to just keep it close. I’m proud of our guys for finishing,” Freeman told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of teaching, and there’s a lot of plays we have to learn from. But we’re going to savor this victory.” 

Despite the slew of false starts and struggles, one moment ultimately determined Freeman’s first win as the program’s head coach. The Fighting Irish were up 24–17 with just over a minute to play when cornerback Clarence Lewis intercepted a pass from Cal quarterback Jack Plummer at Cal’s 32-yard line. That is, until the play went under review and officials ruled that Irish linebacker JD Bertrand had targeted a Cal player, negating the play. 

Cal retained the ball and marched as far as Notre Dame’s 29-yard line before a sack pushed the Bears back to the 35 with time for one last play. 

Plummer heaved a pass into the end zone toward three teammates and six Notre Dame defenders. The ball then got bobbled among several of them in a wild game of hot potato. 

In the end, the ball hit the ground off the hands of Cal wideout Jeremiah Hunter, falling incomplete and marking Freeman’s first win as head coach since he took over the Fighting Irish last December after Brian Kelly departed for LSU.

The Fighting Irish next head to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina on Sept. 24 for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff. Kenan Stadium is sold out as the Tar Heels (3-0) enter the matchup fresh off of a bye week. 

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