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Samardzija makes history as Notre Dame rolls

Nov 4, 2006 - 11:15 PM SOUTH BEND, Indiana (Ticker) -- Jeff Samardzija continued to cement his status as perhaps the greatest wide receiver in Notre Dame's storied history.

Samardzija had six receptions for a season-high 177 yards and fellow senior Brady Quinn threw four touchdown passes as 11th-ranked Notre Dame overcame a sloppy defensive performance for a 45-26 triumph over North Carolina.

It was the sixth straight victory for the Fighting Irish (8-1), who are battling for a second consecutive berth in the Bowl Championship Series.

Although the Tar Heels (1-8) have not beaten a Division I-A opponent this season, Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis knew it was important to take Saturday's contest seriously.

"They played their best game of the year against Wake (Forest) last week and had not thrown in the towel," said Weis, who improved to 17-4 at Notre Dame. "The coach (John Bunting) had been dismissed, did not throw in the towel and played one of the best games they had played. That gave us visual evidence they were going to come in and play hard today."

Notre Dame can credit part of its reemergence on the national scene to Samardzija, who steadily is making his way to the top of the school's record books in several categories.

The 6-5 Samardzija's accomplishments are even more impressive considering he played sparingly over his first two seasons before his breakout junior campaign, when he posted school records of 77 receptions for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"I think it's pretty amazing that he accomplished it really in a year, year and a half," Weis said. "He really just played last year and this year. ... He's caught a lot of balls for us in a short amount of time and he's been very, very productive."

The Fighting Irish owned a 31-19 lead with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter when Samardzija hauled in a perfectly thrown 42-yard touchdown pass from Quinn. It was the 23rd career TD catch for Samardzija, who passed Derrick Mayes for first on the school's all-time list.

Quinn maintained his pursuit of the Heisman Trophy, completing 23-of-35 passes for 346 yards. He has 2,579 yards and 25 touchdowns with just four interceptions and a 63.9 completion percentage in nine games this season.

"Those four touchdown passes, no interceptions, that's usually a pretty good day at the office," Weis said. "There were a couple more that we had our hands on. (It) could have been a better day at the office."

Tight end John Carlson had 91 yards on eight catches, Rhema McKnight caught two TDs and Darius Walker ran for 86 yards and a score on 20 carries for Notre Dame, which improved to 17-1 all-time against UNC.

The Tar Heels connected on a few big passing plays but struggled to protect junior quarterback Joe Dailey, who went 14-of-22 for 213 yards and a season-high three TDs but was sacked four times.

"I think we gave a great effort," said Bunting, who was fired but will finish the season. "I applaud the efforts of many of the players that came here and competed extremely well. And I told them so in the locker room."

Freshman wide receiver Hakeem Nicks enjoyed an outstanding performance for UNC, hauling in six receptions for 171 yards and two TDs - both season highs.

"He's a freshman player that we knew coming in had an opportunity to be a really, really good player, not only as a freshman who will really develop into a great player over time," Bunting said. "He's got a tremendous work ethic, in my opinion, and I've said this several times."

The Tar Heels entered the second half trailing, 31-13, but Dailey found Nicks for a 13-yard score just over five minutes into the third quarter. However, the Fighting Irish blocked the extra-point attempt to maintain a 12-point lead.

Samardzija pulled in his historic touchdown just 93 seconds later, but UNC battled back to within 38-26 on the following play from scrimmage when Dailey hooked up with Nicks for a 72-yard TD.

After catching the ball near the sideline, the speedy Nicks broke a pair of tackles and raced nearly 40 yards to the end zone.

"(Nicks) is a warrior," Bunting said. "He has a warrior mentality, which is what you need to be a good football player. He performed like I thought he would."

However, Notre Dame sealed the victory with 11:13 remaining when Walker plunged into the end zone from a yard out, capping a 10-play, 61-yard drive which took nearly five minutes off the clock.

"Our deal today was we were going to come out and we were going to throw it a lot the first half," Weis said. "And when we got control of the game, we were going to come back and run it a lot."

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