Irish Hit Reality With Thud

SUNDAY, SEPT. 14, 1997

As the Ross-Ade Stadium scoreboard clock did a 40-yard dash toward zeroes, Purdue’s student section oozed toward the field like syrup down a tree trunk. Down the bleacher seats, over the black railing they came, arms raised, smiles of disbelief on their faces.

Dusk was settling in Saturday, as was the reality of Purdue’s 28-17 victory against late, great Notre Dame. County sheriffs, Lafayette and campus police encircled one of the goal posts, but they couldn’t do much about the other one. In no time at all, the unprotected crossbar was decorated with a dozen living Boilermaker ornaments.

“Let’s get out of here,” said a nervous Notre Dame official as he edged toward the locker room. And then he was gone, much like the Irish’s hopes of an improbable national championship or even a nine-win season.

The only thing more ridiculous than Purdue’s upset of 12th-ranked Notre Dame was the stadium announcer pleading with fans to leave the field.”We made a pact with the band to sing “Hail Purdue” in the end zone if we won,” Boilermaker coach Joe Tiller said. “We couldn’t get to the end zone to do so.”

No such problems during the game. Tiller’s “Basketball on Grass” offense was good for 485 total yards, 352 passing yards and three touchdowns, including an 11-play, 99-yard scoring drive. Of course, had he publicly predicted any of this before the game, the offensive scheme would have been renamed, “Tiller on Grass.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Notre Dame was a 20-point favorite, not so much for last week’s four-point victory against Georgia Tech, but more because of Purdue’s stunning opening-game loss to Toledo.

The Irish had beaten the Boilermakers 11 consecutive times.

Jim Colletto, the former Purdue coach who resigned late last season and eventually joined the Notre Dame staff as offensive coordinator, had asked the Irish to “make him proud.” What he got instead was a kick to the thorax.

“I feel real bad for Coach Colletto,” said quarterback Ron Powlus, who completed a career-high 31 passes for for 293 yards and one touchdown. “I feel we let him down a little bit.”

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