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A season saved? ND comes back from 17 down to topple MSU

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Trailing by 17 points at halftime,
Notre Dame faced a sobering reality: A season that began with so
much promise was about to be derailed by a second straight defeat.

The start to the Notre Dame coaching careers of Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis look eerily similar on paper. But whereas Willingham got booted out of South Bend after just three seasons (and a 21-15 record), Weis is signed on for another 10 years. Irish fans are hoping that Saturday's miraculous 40-37 comeback win over Michigan State represents a break with the past, and the first step of Notre Dame's ascent back into college football's elite with Weis at the helm.

Willingham
Weis

W-L thru 14 games

11-3

11-3

Game 15

L to Michigan, 38-0

L to Michigan, 47-21

Game 16

L to Michigan State, 22-16

Beat Michigan State, 40-37

Coming off a blowout loss to Michigan, the Irish looked beaten
again -- still down 16 going into the fourth quarter. Meanwhile,
Michigan State looked unstoppable in front of a fired-up crowd.

"I think that at halftime the guys realized the season was
starting to fall away for us," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said.
"Everyone could feel the same thing. After the game we played last
week, and now we're down big at halftime ... it was basically 'Hey
fellas, what's it gonna be? Are we just going to be a bunch of
also-rans or are we going to come out here and give it a chance to
win the game?"

In stunning fashion, the Irish stepped up.

Cornerback Terrail Lambert capped a furious rally by returning
an interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 2:53 remaining to
give the 12th-ranked Fighting Irish a 40-37 victory over the
Spartans on Saturday night.

The loss shocked Michigan State (3-1) and its fans, who remained
in the stands despite heavy rain in the second half, convinced they
were going to see the Spartans beat the Irish (3-1) for the eighth
time in 10 meetings.

But it wasn't to be.

Lambert made sure of that, following up his score by ending the
Spartans' hopes moments later with a juggling interception of Drew
Stanton's pass in the closing seconds.

"Late in the game, I made some stupid mistakes," Stanton said.

That the decisive plays came from the Irish defense, exposed in
the loss to the Wolverines and for much of the game Saturday, may
have been the biggest surprise.

But the Irish offense also clicked late, led by quarterback
Brady Quinn.

Quinn started slow, going just 2-of-8 for 6 yards in the first
quarter as Michigan State jumped out to a 17-0 lead.

But he finished 20-of-36 for 319 yards with five TDs against one
interception.

"Give all the credit to Notre Dame," Michigan State running
back Javon Ringer said. "They stepped up when they had to."

The Irish trailed 37-21 entering the fourth quarter. But Quinn
threw TD passes to Jeff Samardzija (43 yards) and Rhema McKnight
(14 yards) to cut the lead to 37-33 with 4:57 remaining.

McKnight's score was set up by another big play from the
defense. Notre Dame safety Chinedum Ndukwe stripped the ball from
Stanton and recovered it at the Michigan State 24 with about 6
minutes remaining.

Michigan State's Jehuu Caulcrick finished with 111 yards and a
TD on eight carries. Stanton ran for 53 yards, and completed 10 of
22 passes for 114 yards. He had two TD passes and the two
interceptions.

Michigan State looked like it might continue its recent good
fortune against the Irish, which included a 44-41 overtime victory
in South Bend last year after which a few Spartan players planted a
school flag near midfield.

The Spartans led this one 31-14 at halftime and looked as if
they should be preparing for another postgame celebration.

It was all Michigan State early, as the Spartans rolled up 260
yards of offense in the first half.

After forcing a Notre Dame punt, the Spartans scored on a
three-play, 73-yard drive on their first possession. The drive was
capped by a 34-yard touchdown pass from Stanton to Kerry Reed.

Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski fumbled a punt that Michigan State's
punter, Brandon Fields, recovered at the 50. The Spartans scored on
a trick play, with receiver Matt Trannon throwing a 26-yard TD pass
to a wide-open Javon Ringer.

Brett Swenson added a 32-yard field goal late in the first
quarter to make it 17-0.

But the Spartans struggled in the second half as turnovers and
penalties cost them.

"We just made two many mistakes when it counted," Michigan
State coach John L. Smith said. "We couldn't sustain drives."

The teams were meeting for the 70th time and Notre Dame holds a
44-25-1 edge in the series.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the famous 10-10
tie between the two programs, the 1966 'Game of the Century.' The
Spartans retired the No. 95 jersey of defensive end Bubba Smith, a
star of the '66 team who was picked No. 1 overall by the Baltimore
Colts in the 1967 NFL draft.

Weis said after the win that he would give Ara Parseghian, the
coach of Notre Dame's 1966 team, a ball from Saturday's game.