SOUTH BEND - Tommy Rees finished his last home game to chants of "Tommy" as the clock ran out in a 23-13 victory over BYU on Saturday.
"That was a very special moment. We've been through a lot, this entire senior class. Not only on the team, but everybody here," Rees said. "They could have chanted anyone's name, it's a whole senior class effort, but that was definitely a memory I'll hold very closely for a long time."
Rees got the Fighting Irish (8-3) going with a 61-yard touchdown pass to DaVaris Daniels on Notre Dame's first possession, then set up a 2-yard TD run by Tarean Folston with a 30-yard pass to TJ Jones as the Irish rebounded from a disappointing 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh.
The game was played in intermittent snow, with temperatures in the 20s and winds gusting to 30 mph. The field was worn and torn despite being replaced a little more than a month ago. Several times, ball carriers fell as they tried to make cuts. But the Irish improved to 13-1-3 all-time in games where it snows, with the lone loss coming to Indianapolis Artillery in 1895.
Kelly said the Notre Dame coaches asked the Irish to have a focus on doing the little things right, which they lacked against Pitt.
"I think all of our players, in particular our seniors, really rallied to those things," Kelly said.
Rees was 15-of-28 passing for 235 yards and the Irish rushed for 235 yards, led by a career-high 117 yards by Cam McDaniel. Folston added 78 yards on 13 carries as the Irish amassed 470 yards of total offense.
"It was kind of an offensive lineman's dream today, with the wind and running the ball," tackle Zack Martin said. "We wanted to impose our will on them, and in the snow, it was kind of a nice little ending there."
Kyle Brindza kicked a 51-yard field goal and a pair of 26-yard field goals for the Irish. Kelly said despite the weather conditions, Brindza was in his face wanting to try the long field goal.
"When you've got a guy with that kind of confidence asking to kick the football, it makes it easier for me to make a decision to put him out there," Kelly said. "He's a great weapon for us."
BYU (7-4), which had a 7-yard TD pass from Taysom Hill to JD Falslev in the first quarter, closed to 20-13 when Justin Sorensen kicked a 27-yard field goal with 39 seconds left in the third quarter. The Cougars couldn't get any closer.
BYU had a chance to make a game of it with less than five minutes remaining when Paul Lasike broke off a 46-yard run, running over Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley, before being tackled by KeiVarae Russell at the 6. But the Cougars could only gain 2 yards on the next three plays. A 22-yard field goal attempt by Sorensen was deflected by nose guard Jarron Jones, ending BYU's last threat.
"The defense did a good job of stopping us in the red zone," Falsev said. "We just have to execute. If we execute, this is a whole different ballgame."
Hill passed for 168 yards and he and Lasike each rushed for 101 yards for BYU. But Notre Dame held Jamaal Williams, who entered the game averaging 116 yards a game, to 43 yards.
"I think excluding the first series, they did a nice job on Jamaal, especially on inside runs," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I thought they did a nice job on Taysom on our designed runs."
Several Irish players switched numbers for the game. Freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith wore No. 13, instead of his usual No. 9, to honor linebacker Danny Spond, who ended his playing career before the season after suffering a paralyzing migraine headache. Senior wide receiver Luke Massa wore No. 78 in honor of high school teammate Matt James, a Notre Dame recruit who died when he fell from a Florida balcony during spring break.
The victory marked the first time Notre Dame hadn't trailed in a game since the opener against Temple. Rees improved to 22-7 as a starter, and may be best remembered for the role he played as a backup last season in helping the Irish get to the national championship game.
He said simply being a winner is good enough.
"It doesn't matter how you win games, as long as you get that W," he said. "Just someone that gave everything he had to this university and this football program."