Notre Dame shuts out Demon Deacons in home finale, 38-0.
NOTRE DAME — Manti Te’o sauntered into the post-game interview room enveloped up to his ears in a dozen leis.
They were made of Hawaiian flowers, sea shells, woven vines and even beef jerky. The sheer volume would have smothered smaller men, but Te’o has broad shoulders.
“What do you got going on there?” a reporter asked him.
“A lot of love,” said the Notre Dame senior linebacker.
The love wasn’t in short supply Saturday evening, as the No. 3 Irish blanked Wake Forest 38-0 in the home field swan song for Te’o and 28 other seniors.
Cierre Wood set the pace for the senior class early, breaking away on a 68-yard touchdown run in the first two minutes of the game. It was the longest run of Wood’s career and the longest touchdown run for Notre Dame of the season.
The Irish never looked back, scoring 31 points in the first half and tacking on another touchdown at the end of the third quarter. The defense, already the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, didn’t let Wake Forest (5-6) get on the board.
“That’s a great way to end my career playing here at Notre Dame,” Te’o, who finished with six tackles, said of the shutout.
After squeaking out dramatic 3- and 7-point wins at home all year, head coach Brian Kelly was thankful for a more comfortable grand finale. The win marks Notre Dame’s first undefeated season at home since 1998.
“We saved our best for the last home game,” he said. “The goal for all of us was to be undefeated this year at home.”
Linebacker Carlo Calabrese knocked down Wake Forest tailback Josh Harris on the Demon Deacons’ first possession, popping the ball loose. Safety Zeke Motta recovered it, setting the Irish up for another score.
Though not part of the senior class, quarterback Everett Golson tried his best to send the graduating players out with a few big plays.
Golson hit seven different receivers — four of whom were seniors — in a 20-30, 346-yard, 3-touchdown effort that spanned only 2.5 quarters.
Golson found Tyler Eifert six times for 87 yards and a touchdown, Theo Riddick six times for 58 yards, John Goodman twice for 57 yards and a touchdown and Robby Toma twice for 37 yards.
Golson’s sole interception came when he tried to hit Toma on a touchdown pass in triple-coverage. When asked by reporters if he was trying to get every senior a touchdown, Golson laughed.
“Yeah, I actually was,” he said.
Notre Dame was enjoying such a generous lead that Kelly began pulling starters midway through the third quarter. Te’o, Motta and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore were the last to come out during a fourth quarter timeout, earning a standing ovation from the 80,000 fans present.
The student section whipped around bright yellow leis for Te’o, who took off his helmet on the sideline and lifted his arms, encouraging the crowd to cheer.
“I wanted to make it a special moment for our seniors on defense,” Kelly said of pulling the seniors one by one. “They have obviously been the rock. They’ve carried us while we were trying to find ourselves offensively.”
Notre Dame finished with 584 yards total offense to Wake Forest’s 209. Wood led all tailbacks with 11 carries for 150 yard and a touchdown. Junior TJ Jones led receivers with six grabs for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Calabrese and nose guard Louis Nix each registered seven tackles, while Stephon Tuitt wrapped quarterback Tanner Price up for a 9-yard loss.
By the fourth quarter, Notre Dame fans were calling for senior walk-ons, and senior Will Salvi and receiver Nick Fitzpatrick took the field. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Flessinger took the first snaps of his college career in the waning moments of the game.
As the game clock hit “0” after Flessinger took a knee, 62 Notre Dame players were logged on the participation report.
Notre Dame’s performance left such an impression on Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe that he thinks the Irish deserve a spot in the National Championship Game.
“No question about it, but maybe there are a couple of teams that should be too,” Grobe said. “I can’t imagine anybody, from what I saw today, playing better than Notre Dame.”