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Notre Dame vs. Toledo score: Fighting Irish overcome turnovers and late scare to survive and advance

No. 8 Notre Dame survived a massive scare from upset-minded Toledo on Saturday afternoon in South Bend in a 32-29 win. In one of the most dramatic games of the young 2021 college football season, the Fighting Irish went 75 yards on just three plays in the final two minutes to top the Rockets. 

Quarterback Jack Coan found veteran tight end Michael Mayer over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown with 1:09 to play to cap off the go-ahead drive that sealed the deal. That toss came one play after Coan had his finger popped back into place after he hit it on an opposing player’s helmet.

The final was secured on the next drive when defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa sacked and stripped Toledo quarterback Carter Bradley on the Rockets’ 25-yard line. Linebacker JD Bertrand recovered the ball with 25 seconds to go to help the Fighting Irish escape a wild one.

The sizzling fourth quarter nearly turned into a disaster for the Fighting Irish. Running back Kyren Williams was stripped by Desjuan Johnson on the Toledo 27-yard line late in the game, giving the Rockets what they thought was a game-winning march. It was the last of three turnovers committed by the Irish, which led to 19 of Toledo’s 29 points on the afternoon.

The fumble proved costly, as Rockets quarterback Dequan Finn took a direct snap and scampered 26 yards down the left sideline with 1:35 to go to cap off a seven-play, 73-yard drive to go up 29-24. In all, the two teams combined for 31 points and 355 yards in the back-and-forth. 

Despite a pair of turnovers, Coan was the star of the afternoon, throwing for 239 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-33 passing. Coan and Tyler Buchner combined to throw for 317 yards in a game in which the Fighting Irish averaged 6.1 yards per play.

The implications from this thriller are huge. 

Notre Dame pulled off an overtime winner in Week 1 against Florida State. One loss would be nearly impossible for Notre Dame to overcome if it wants to make its third College Football Playoff run in four years. There are always contenders in the SEC and the Pac-12 received a much-needed boost with No. 12 Oregon’s big win at No. 3 Ohio State. Plus, no. 6 Clemson has an easy path rom here on out. The landscape can, and probably will, change between now and Selection Sunday, but two weeks in, there would be little room for a one-loss Irish team. 

The other side of the coin is the confidence Notre Dame has gained during the chaotic first two weeks of the season. Coan, who was never known as a difference-maker when he started for Wisconsin, has looked awesome with 605 passing yards, six touchdowns and only one interception in two pressure-packed games.

Championship-caliber teams need to know how to win in tough situations, and Notre Dame has done it twice in a row.