NEW YORK — Tommy Rees passed for 319 yards in his final college game, Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals and No. 25 Notre Dame muddled through a 29-16 victory against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish (9-4) finished their follow-up season to last year’s run to the national championship game a long way from the BCS against a two-touchdown underdog trying to avoid a losing record.
Notre Dame’s TJ Jones scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter and Rutgers star Brandon Coleman answered with a 14-yard touchdown catch soon after. Tarean Folston’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:38 in the fourth made it 26-16 and finally gave the Irish a comfortable lead.
On the slick, cold turf at Yankee Stadium, the Pinstripe Bowl turned into a field-goal kicking contest. Brindza was 5 for 6. Kyle Federico made 3 of 3 for the Scarlet Knights (6-7).
The Irish dominated in yards (494-237) and time of possession (38:49) but bogged down in the red zone repeatedly.
Rees closed a college career packed with both memorable and forgettable moments with a solid performance, going 27 for 47.
The senior has been “The Closer,” rallying Notre Dame to victories with late drives, and “Turnover Tommy,” making crushing mistakes at the most inopportune times during four seasons in South Bend.
Against one of the worst pass defenses in the nation on Saturday, Rees’ greatest accomplishment was not throwing an interception.
Twice Notre Dame put together double-digit play drives that ended in short field goals for Brindza. A 15-play, 90-yard march that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth with Brindza’s 25-yarder made it 19-13 Notre Dame with 12:46 left.
Brindza’s third field goal, a 26-yarder with 6:03 left in the third quarter, gave Notre Dame a 16-13 lead — after the Irish caught a break. Brindza had missed from 36 yards but Rutgers was flagged for running into the kicker to give him a second, easier, try.
Notre Dame improved to 17-6-3 at Yankee Stadium, though this ballpark in the Bronx is only a few years old and across the street from where the original House that Ruth built sat for decades.
The Fighting Irish played the first football game in the new stadium in 2010. Rees, a freshman then, helped the Irish beat Army and got to use Derek Jeter’s locker. Called upon to lead the Irish this year after Everett Golson was suspended from school for academic cheating, Rees surpassed 3,000 yards through the air and became one of the most prolific passers in school history, making the most of his limited physical tools.
Rutgers heads to the Big Ten next year, leaving the American Athletic Conference (the former Big East) behind for much tougher competition. The Scarlet Knights head to their new league coming off their first losing season since 2010 and just the second in the last nine years. Coach Kyle Flood will need to show immediate improvement.
Senior quarterback Chas Dodd, whose career has been similar to Rees’ in terms of ups and downs, finished with 156 yards passing.
The teams played to a 13-13 tie in first half that wasn’t nearly as crisp and pleasant and as the weather.
Brindza kicked a couple of field goals, one after an interception by Kendall Moore at the Rutgers’ 22.
Federico made two field goals for Rutgers, one after the Scarlet Knights recovered a muffed punt by Jones at the Notre Dame 21.
Jones atoned for the turnover with a touchdown run on a fly sweep that gave Notre Dame a 10-3 lead in the first quarter.
Rutgers came right back to tie with Dodd going deep to Coleman for 51 yards, and then finding the big NFL-bound receiver for a TD with 1:51 left in the first quarter.