WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - Notre Dame receiver DaVaris Daniels staggered Purdue with two late touchdowns. Three plays after his second score, teammate Bennett Jackson delivered the final blow -- a 34-yard interception return for a score.
On a night No. 21 Notre Dame faced a stiff challenge from its oldest in-state rival, the late scoring flurry from Daniels and Jackson finally knocked out the Boilermakers 31-24 on Saturday night.
"Losing sucks and that's something we don't want to do here at Notre Dame," Daniels said. "We know everybody hates us, a lot of people hate us and it makes us pretty happy to make them mad."
It wasn't supposed to be this tough for Notre Dame (2-1), which won its sixth straight in the 85-game series that has been played every year since 1946. The Irish were installed as a three-touchdown favorite against a foe that had struggled the previous two weeks.
But the Boilermakers who showed up Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium didn't look anything like the team Notre Dame had watched on tape all week.
Quarterback Tommy Rees spent most of the first half trying to dodge the blitz-happy Boilermakers. The running game was in shambles, and a frustrated coach Brian Kelly kept flailing his arms in the air. Even after a halftime pep talk in which the fiery Kelly explained to Rees and his offense they needed to calm down, Notre Dame still found itself trading jabs with Purdue early in the second half.
Daniels changed everything with an acrobatic 9-yard TD catch. On the next Irish offensive play, he fought a defender down for an 82-yard catch-and-run that changed the game. Jackson finally finished it off with the interception return to help the Irish avoid back-to-back regular season losses for the first time in more than two years.
On a night the Irish averaged just 2.5 yards on 37 carries, Rees and Daniels had to carry the offense. Rees was 20 of 33 for 309 yards with two scores, no interceptions and received a game ball. Daniels had eight catches for 167 yards and two scores.
"I was never worried in the sense there was a panic," Kelly said. "I felt really confident that we were going to win the football game. We just needed to settle down a little bit."
Until then, the surprising Boilermakers played the Irish to a virtual draw.
Henry, who had struggled the first two weeks, finished 25 of 40 for 256 yards with three touchdown passes -- his first three of the year. Akeem Hunt played like the feature back the Boilermakers needed, rushing 12 times for 22 yards and catching nine passes for 72 yards and a score.
The defense, which worn down in the first two games, also forced Notre Dame to become one-dimensional.
"We did a good job in the running game," Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. "There were a couple of plays we'd like to get back, but they (Purdue's defense) did a good job against the run."
It was good enough to give Purdue the upper hand for three quarters.
After jumping to a 10-0 lead, the Boilermakers answered every challenge, retaking the lead on B.J. Knauf's 18-yard TD reception just four minutes after Notre Dame had tied the score at 10. The defense, meanwhile, continued to force Notre Dame to small ball -- until Daniels broke through.
The 6-foot-1 junior used his three-inch height advantage to outjump Antoine Lewis for the first TD catch, which tied the score at 17 with 14:47 left.
When Purdue's ensuing drive stalled, Rees went to Daniels on the first play. Daniels, who had beaten Purdue's best cover cornerback, Ricardo Allen, caught the ball on the run, then stiff-armed Allen to the ground as he barely stayed in bounds. It was the longest pass play of both players' careers and after standing up to a replay review, it went down as the ninth-longest in Notre Dame history.
"The hairs on the back of my neck kind of stood up when I got close and I saw the hash marks," Daniels said. "I was just trying to make a play and trying to get as far away from the sideline as possible at the time."
Three plays after that, Jackson picked off Henry and scored on the return.
Purdue closed to 31-24 and had a chance to tie the score after recovering Amir Carlisle's fumble at the Notre Dame 41. But the Irish defense forced a punt and the Boilers never got the ball again.
"We just kept playing, we had to make a couple of plays," Kelly said. "Last week, Michigan made the plays. Tonight, we made the plays when we needed to."