The Irish aren't going to a bowl game this year, and it's not because they don't want to. It's because they can't.
Tim Hasselbeck threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as No. 25 Boston College beat Notre Dame 31-29 Saturday, dropping the Irish to 5-6 and making them bowl ineligible for the first time in 13 years.
"I think we're beat up emotionally more than anything," said quarterback Jarious Jackson, who was a sophomore in 1996 when Notre Dame opted against playing in a bowl game despite an 8-3 record. "It hurts badly. I can't put it into words."
Three weeks ago, the Irish were 5-3 and shooting for a New Year's Day appearance. But a 38-14 whipping by Tennessee and a 37-27 collapse at Pittsburgh last week made Saturday's game a must-win for the Irish to have a shot at finishing 7-5.
With Boston College (8-2) up 31-17, the Irish rallied for two touchdowns in the final six minutes. But a missed extra-point kick and a failed two-point conversion pass with 3:27 left pushed Notre Dame to the brink of its first losing season since 1986.
The Irish have to win at Stanford next week to avoid that, but even a victory would not give them the winning record required to play in a bowl.
"I was pretty sure we were going to end the season 7-5, but the tables turned," Jackson said. "So now the best thing for us to do is to try to be 6-6."
Even the idea of finishing below .500 would've been considered blasphemous before the season began after a 9-3 record in 1998. Notre Dame faithful talked of pursuing a national championship, believing the Irish could keep alive a streak of winning the title every 11 years with crowns in '66, '77 and '88.
But youth, a tough schedule and poor coaching jumped up and bit the Irish early as they launched into a three-game skid after winning their season opener.
"I just think tha we've got to realize we've got one more shot," linebacker Rocky Boiman said. "This game we lost, but we've always got one more shot. We've just got to take it like that and go out and win."
The problems that plagued Notre Dame all season doomed them on Saturday.
The secondary couldn't contain Hasselbeck, who was 20-of-30 for 272 yards. After rushing for 136 yards on the season before the game for a 2.2 average per carry, he gained 60 yards on 15 carries.
And Notre Dame couldn't mount a rushing attack. Boston College held Notre Dame to 95 yards on 32 carries, just more than half of its 184 yards per game average.
Still, the Irish somehow found a way to give themselves a chance at the end.
Hasselbeck's 34-yard touchdown pass to Jamal Burke with 12:39 left put the Eagles up 31-17, casting a pall over the stadium.
But Jackson, who had already guided Notre Dame to three fourth-quarter comebacks this season, gave the Irish a glimmer of hope with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Tony Fisher on 4th-and-six with 5:56 left. Jim Sanson's extra point was tipped, and Notre Dame still trailed 31-23.
The Irish held Boston College to a three-and-out on its next possession, and Julius Jones returned the kick 67 yards for a touchdown with 3:27 left. But Jackson's pass to Joey Getherall for the two-point conversion went through the receiver's hands in the back of the end zone.
The Irish got the ball back again with 2:18 left. But one year after Notre Dame made a goal-line stand, stopping Boston College on four straight plays from inside the 5-yard line to win 31-26, the Eagles made a stand of their own.
Jackson's first pass on Notre Dame's next possession was almost picked off and then Pedro Cirino intercepted his next attempt at the Notre Dame 38 to seal the win.
"It stuck with us for a year. It never went away," Boston College coach Tom O'Brien said of last year's loss. "From that day on they dedicated themselves. They refused to lose."
Jackson finished 19-of-34 for 283 yards to break Joe Theismann's single-season passing record of 2,429 yards with a total of 2,586. He also rushed for 23 yards to give him 3,026 total yards from scrimmage this season, breaking Theismann's single-season record of 2,813. But he also was picked off twice.
"Our turn will come again," Irish coach Bob Davie said. "One thing I think this team has is character, and we're not going to lose character because there are some bullets being shot at us right now."
Boston College defensive lineman Todd McKniff was carried off the field on a stretcher after he was hit hard on Notre Dame's last kickoff. He was examined at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center and released. But a hospital spokesman would not give out details of his condition.
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