A Heisman contender, a top-five ranking, a dramatic win in a rivalry … all undone by one Notre Dame timeout to avoid a possible substitution penalty. If it happened now, the turmoil would sink the Irish season. In 1994, the flub dashed the last title hope of Lou Holtz’s tenure and cut short Ron Powlus’ trophy dreams after his second game, not his second Heisman as ESPN analyst Beano Cook famously predicted.
All because a Notre Dame defender worried the Irish had 12 men on the field as Michigan lined up for a field goal with just even seconds remaining.
“They did us a favor,” the Wolverines kicker said. “Thanks, Lou.”
Sophomore kicker Remy Hamilton would have known better than anybody. He knew the moment was possible only because Michigan fifth-year quarterback Todd Collins had barely avoided a sack from Notre Dame linebacker Bert Barry on the last play from scrimmage and Wolverines receiver Seth Smith subsequently dove for the sideline, desperate to stop the clock. Hamilton knew the play clock was down to a single second, Michigan without any timeouts, when the Irish called for the timeout. Holtz said a player made the decision. Whoever did, they saved the Wolverines.
Hamilton knocked through a 42-yarder with only two seconds remaining, giving No. 6 Michigan a 26-24 win before the rivalry would take a two-year pause. Before that afternoon, the eventual 1994 All-American had quietly served as the Wolverines’ backup kicker, stepping in only when roommate Erik Lovell struggled such a week earlier.
“I didn’t think we had enough time to come back,” Hamilton said. “But the guys on the sideline told me we had 52 seconds and to get ready for a field goal. I have never even kicked four extra points in a game, much less four field goals.”
An unexpected hero knocking off Notre Dame as the clock approached zero was a familiar feeling for the Irish, having lost their last home game of 1993 in the same way to Boston College and David Gordon.
“It’s like last year,” Notre Dame receiver Derrick Mayes said. “I don’t know what to say. It was the same scenario. It was almost like I was trying to prepare myself for it.”
Mayes’ leaping touchdown snag with 52 seconds left was the only reason he had to prepare for that same scenario. Hamilton’s third field goal of the day had staked Michigan to a 23-17 lead with 2:15 to play before a 54-yard kickoff return from Mike Miller set up the Irish at the plus-36-yard line. Powlus then directed a quick, short drive to take a 24-23 lead, connecting with Mayes from seven yards out, topping his 15-of-27 day with 187 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was a great comeback by Notre Dame followed by a great comeback by Michigan,” Holtz said. “It’s disappointing like the Boston College game. … I’m concerned where we go from here.”
That concern was well-founded; the Irish would respond with three wins before losing three of four and tying at USC to end the regular season, a 6-5-1 record a deflating follow-up to 1993’s near-championship.
That concern was also somewhat misplaced. The timeout made the field goal more feasible, and Hamilton executed perfectly, but long before that point, Notre Dame coughed up three fumbles (all leading to earlier Hamilton field goals), Powlus’ second career start included a botched snap as one of those fumbles, and he was sacked six times.
There was plenty to be concerned about, and if the disappointing result had not come in such dramatic fashion, those mishaps would have stood out a bit more.
“It’s like a lottery,” Holtz said. “When you lose by one number, it hurts more than if you had lost with no numbers.”
In this instance, that one number was a favor as much as it was a made field goal.
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