SOUTH BEND, Indiana — With his Cougars down 23-13 late in the fourth quarter, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall threw his arms up signaling touchdown when Taysom Hill threw a slant pass to Cody Hoffman on second-and-goal from the 6.
But neither he nor Hill saw Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith along the line, who knocked the pass down.
"I thought Cody had the guy beat inside. That was a huge play. I thought we had a touchdown there," Mendenhall said.
Not only didn't they have a touchdown, but a 22-yard field goal attempt by Justin Sorensen was blocked two plays later, ending the Cougars' hope of avenging last season's 17-14 loss to the Irish.
BYU safety Craig Bills, who intercepted a pass in the end zone, said the Cougars (7-4) weren't surprised by anything the Irish did, not even on the big plays they had.
"We were either off a gap or we didn't make a play," he said.
Tommy Rees, booed a year ago at Notre Dame Stadium when he was brought in late against Purdue, finished his last home game to chants of "Tommy" as the clock ran out in the 23-13 victory.
"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 when it snows, with the lone loss coming to Indianapolis Artillery in 1895.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he and his assistants asked the Irish to 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, which had a 7-yard TD pass from Hill to JD Falslev in the first quarter, closed to 20-13 when 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 5 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 and Sorensen's 22-yard field goal attempt 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," Falslev 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 matchup 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," Mendenhall said. "I thought they did a nice job on Taysom on our designed runs."
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."