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Super rushing game carries Notre Dame past Japan

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Sure, they’ve lost the speed, agility and stamina they once had. But the Notre Dame alumni team played a soulful game while wearing its famous gold helmets at Tokyo Dome.

And they showed it to the Japanese team by relying on an overpowering running game.

The Notre Dame Legends overwhelmed Japan’s senior national team with 309 yards on the ground, and their defense held the opponent’s offense to zero touchdowns in a 19-3 victory in the Notre Dame Japan Bowl in front of 17,710 spectators on Saturday evening.

Quarterback Tony Rice who helped the Fighting Irish win their last national championship in 1988 as their signal-caller, didn’t play much due to injuries. Ambrose Wooden, who is a safety, took the snaps under center for most of the game.

“We made some mistakes before halftime,” legendary coach Lou Holtz, who took the helm for this ceremonial game, said after the game. “So we corrected some things at halftime; we can’t throw the ball, (so we) have to make some adjustments in our running game. And we came out in the second half, (and) just played football. We had to because we couldn’t throw the ball.”

Running back Jay Vickers, who played for the storied college program in 1997 and ’98 led the Notre Dame team, which consisted of former players from the powerhouse school, with 139 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Japan’s offense had a smooth start in the game, connecting short and middle passes. The hosts got on the scoreboard first when Daisuke Aoki made a 30-yard field goal with 3:56 left in the first quarter.

But over the final three quarters the Fighting Irish regained their touch and intuition back and began stepping up on both sides of ball.

With the score tied at 3-3, Vickers set up a scoring opportunity with a 77-yard run to reach Japan’s 2-yard line. The 41-year-old Rice then scampered into the end zone on for a 1-yard QB keeper to make it 10-3 with 1:13 left in the first half.

Notre Dame later took a 12-3 lead on a safety in the third quarter.

The Legends delivered the knockout punch to Team Japan on Vickers’ 2-yard rushing TD with 1:05 remaining in the game.

Notre Dame ended up with only 7 passing yards, while Japan put up 179 through the air.

“We couldn’t score,” said disappointed Japan coach Kiyoyuki Mori. “(Holtz said after the game) ‘You guys play good football.’ But it doesn’t mean much if you don’t get a win.”

The 31-year-old Vickers, the game’s MVP, said: “I think the game was played pretty well by both teams.

“The Japanese team played extremely well. They came out hard, they were tough. They understand the game of American football. They have techniques (and) they adjusted to everything we did.

“But at the end of the day, we just kept running and running and running. We tried to pound it. That’s kind of how we play. That’s Notre Dame football. I think we did a great job and we had a good competition.”

Cards stay focused

PHOENIX (AP) They swirled out of the desert like some unexpected dust storm, dispatching the likes of Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia in one of the most improbable runs to the Super Bowl in NFL history.

Now the Arizona Cardinals, who came within 35 seconds of a league championship, are faced with proving they were no one-year wonder.

“No matter whether it’s in Phoenix or around the country,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “there’s going to be skepticism of us as a team.”

One remarkable January will not erase the legacy of a franchise that defined pro football futility for decades. The fact that Arizona was routed by Minnesota and New England late in the regular season didn’t help its long-term reputation, Super Bowl or no Super Bowl.

“I think the only thing that’s going to help erase that is sustained success,” Whisenhunt said.

So much rides on the ageless arm of Kurt Warner, who had a Pro Bowl regular season, then stepped it up with a far more impressive postseason. In those four games, he completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,147 yards and 11 touchdowns, with three interceptions.