WEST LAFAYETTE -- Darrell Hazell isn’t one for moral victories. But the story of Purdue’s 31-24 loss to rival Notre Dame wasn’t told on the scoreboard.
The Boilermakers reflected their coach’s persona in Saturday’s primetime showing. They played with guts and poise. Even as heavy underdogs, Purdue believed it was better than Notre Dame.
“Tonight on the sidelines, there was not a lack of confidence,” Hazell said. “That’s a huge step for this program.”
A strong week of practice showed in Purdue’s effort. The Boilermakers had an answer for each of Notre Dame’s moves. They were well prepared—the ultimate trait of a Hazell team.
“I can tell you, we played that game twice before we got out there,” senior cornerback Ricardo Allen said. “Our coaches are doing a great job.”
Right from the start, Purdue showed it was ready to fight. A 12-play drive ended with Akeem Hunt crossing the goal line on a 15-yard screen. Game on.
When Notre Dame tied the score at 10 in the third quarter, Purdue punched back with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Rob Henry to B.J. Knauf.
It looked like Notre Dame was ready to run away with it in the fourth quarter. Purdue wasn’t prepared to fold. Henry turned a long rollout into a 48-yard heave, setting up a shot in the red zone. On fourth down, the senior quarterback kept the play alive long enough to find tight end Justin Sinz for a touchdown.
The what-ifs are what will haunt the Boilermakers. It sure wasn’t for a lack of effort.
An 82-yard strike from Tommy Rees to DaVaris Daniels gave Notre Dame its first lead of the game, coming early in the fourth quarter. Daniels sped by Allen to make the catch, then a stiff arm helped him break away to the end zone.
“We had a good matchup with DaVaris on the outside,” Rees said. “… Just put the ball out there for him and go make a play.”
Added Allen: “I just didn’t push out fast enough. That was on me. That was my fault. I didn’t do my job.”
But the game ultimately was lost for Purdue when Henry underthrew a pass that landed in the arms of Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson. The pick-six put it away.
“Looking back on it, there are many things I wish I would have done differently,” Henry said.
The Sinz score wasn’t enough for Purdue. Rees would lead the Fighting Irish on a 13-play drive to eat up the game’s final seven minutes and 22 seconds.
Notre Dame proved it was the better team. But Purdue proved it can play with anybody.
“I’m really proud of this football team,” Hazell said.
It may not be a moral victory. But it’s sure something to hang that Hazell’d hat on.