Ann Arbor, MI – On September 10th, 2011, Michigan Stadium lit up for the first time to start a football game. Rivals Notre Dame and Michigan kicked off a little after 8pm, well before anybody knew how utterly insane the game would turnout. The NCAA record-breaking crowd of 114,804 witnessed about three quarters of mediocre and undisciplined football before the magical 4th quarter began.
The score was 24-7 in favor of Notre Dame. Michigan had the ball to begin the 4th quarter at Notre Dame’s goal line. Running back Stephen Hopkins was called upon to attempt a rush right up the gut for the touchdown. Hopkins ran into a wall of Notre Dame defenders and fumbled the ball backwards. At this point, some magical spark ran through the heads of every Michigan football player, coach, alumnus and fan. Hopkins’ fumble was picked up by Michigan Quarterback Denard “Shoelace” Robinson, who promptly ran into the endzone. Michigan was now within 10 points of Notre Dame with almost an entire quarter left to play.
Michigan forced Notre Dame to punt on their next possession. A poor kick left the Wolverines with a short field. The energy in the crowd was building. Michigan Stadium was alive and the most electrifying man in college football, Denard Robinson, never lost faith in his team.
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Michigan’s Quarterback reflected back during the post game press conference, “(…) let’s keep playing as a team and doing what we gotta do to win for Michigan.”*
Two minutes and thirty-five seconds later, Denard connected with wide receiver Jeremy Gallon for a touchdown. Notre Dame was now faced with a small 3-point lead. Five minutes earlier they were up by 17. The Fighting Irish got the ball back and looked to stop the Michigan comeback with a game-clinching touchdown.
The Notre Dame offense marched down the field in a little under 5 minutes and set up first-and-goal at the Michigan seven yard line. The Fighting Irish quarterback, Tommy Rees, hiked the ball and looked to throw a pass into the endzone. However, the “Luck of the Irish” temporarily forgot which team it was rooting for and the football inexplicably fumbled out of Rees’ hands. Michigan recovered the ball with just over six minutes left. The Michigan faithful were riding the roller coaster of emotions as they felt a comeback well within reach. But this roller coaster was far from over.
Three plays and a minute-forty-five seconds later, Michigan was at the Notre Dame thirty yard line following a 45 yard pass completion to Junior Hemingway and a 15 yard penalty on the Irish. Denard Robinson lofted a ball towards the endzone, but Notre Dame defensive back Robert Blanton made a spectacular interception to thwart the drive.
The scoreboard read 4:23 left in the fourth quarter. Michigan Stadium became silent, but only for a moment. Notre Dame was quickly faced with a 3rd and 1 on their own side of the football field. Swirling Maize pom-poms accompanied a loud Michigan crowd and the Michigan defense answered. Notre Dame’s running back, Cierre Wood, was tackled for a loss and the Irish were forced to punt.
*Photo Courtesy of MGoBlog.com*
Michigan’s offense got the ball back with the time clock at 2:16 remaining. One minute and four seconds later, Vincent Smith caught a screen pass from Robinson and juked his way for a lead-changing touchdown. Anybody asleep within a 20 mile radius of Michigan Stadium was awoken by a nuclear cheer-bomb. Michigan was now ahead for the first time in the game, 28-24.
There was still 1:12 left in the game and Tommy Rees and his Notre Dame offense didn’t even miss a beat. Marching down the field in a very quick 42 seconds, Rees connected with wide receiver Theo Riddick and the closest Michigan defender, who wasn’t very close at all, failed to tackle Riddick before he crossed into the endzone. Notre Dame’s marching band was the loudest group in the stadium as the Fighting Irish regained the lead, 31-28.
The scoreboard now read 0:30 left in the first night game at Michigan Stadium, but Denard Robinson remembers, “There was still time on the clock.”
Seven seconds into the Wolverines drive, which started at their own 20 yard line, Denard hit an uncovered Jeremy Gallon. 64 yards of running and 15 seconds later, Gallon stepped out of bounds at the Notre Dame 16 yard line. A glance at the Michigan scoreboard reminded the crowd that 8 seconds were still left. Within game-tying field goal range, first-year Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke opted to rely on Denard Robinson’s play-making abilities.
Everyone in Michigan Stadium went silent when Denard stepped back to throw the ball. Seconds ticked off the clock. As the scoreboard hit 0:02, Michigan wide receiver Roy Roundtree hauled in the game winning touchdown. A seismograph may have been able to register the excitement and intensity inside of Michigan Stadium.
The ensuing kickoff was fumbled and recovered by Michigan. The game was over. The crowd didn’t even consider leaving. They hung around to sing multiple renditions of “The Victors”. Notre Dame fans could barely get out of the stadium as everyone was at a stand-still, singing Journey and trying to comprehend what just happened.
History happened. Magic happened. The Big House’s first night game was officially over, but the celebration went well into the night.