BY HANK KURZ JR.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Notre Dame keeps winning games and losing players. Whether the ninth-ranked Irish can keep it up will depend on whether their replacements keep putting up strong efforts.
Quarterback DeShone Kizer came in for the injured Malik Zaire and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller with 12 seconds left Saturday as the No. 9 Irish beat Virginia 34-27.
The stunning victory was bittersweet, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. Zaire will miss the rest of the season with a fractured ankle, making it the second consecutive week that a player expected to help carry the offense went down and his replacement stepped in and starred.
“Now, DeShone has to run our football team, and we feel good about it,” Kelly said, even as he acknowledged that Kizer lacks experience.
“He’s got great weapons around him, and we saw that today.’’
The Irish (2-0) lost top running back Tarean Folston to a knee injury last week against Texas and found a strong backup in C.J. Prosise, who ran for 155 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, against Virginia.
Notre Dame squandered a 26-14 lead and fell behind when Virginia (0-2) scored with 1:54 left. With Zaire out, Kizer came to the rescue on the last drive. He ran four yards for a first down on fourth-and-two from the Notre Dame 28 and later found the speedy Fuller behind Maurice Canady.
Fuller said he got Canady to bite on a double move, allowing him to run free.
“When I beat him and I saw the ball in the air, it was like it was up there for a million years,” Fuller said.
The receiver also beat Demetrious Nicholson for a 59-yard touchdown in the second half and finished with five catches for 124 yards.
Nicholson said the last touchdown was difficult to watch.
“You always want to just try to freeze time and go back and rewind, but you can’t,” he said.
The game drew more than 58,000 to Scott Stadium, many of them in Notre Dame green, and when the final gun sounded, the team gathered on the field for an impromptu celebration to the delight of the crowd.
Those same fans had been silenced only minutes before as Matt Johns completed a 34-yard pass on third-and-15 to put the ball at the Irish 1, and then Albert Reid took it in on the next play to give Virginia a 27-26 lead.
“What a tough way to lose a football game,” Virginia coach Mike London said.
Johns threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third for Virginia, taking back momentum after Notre Dame opened up a 26-14 lead.
The Irish were seemingly one more score from putting the game away and sending fans for the exits, but Johns led a six-play drive that he capped with a four-yard run.
Notre Dame started to take control in the third quarter after Virginia drove to the Irish 15 and wound up settling for a 43-yard field-goal try that missed.
After an exchange of punts, Zaire sent Fuller streaking down the right side and hit him with a perfectly thrown 59-yard touchdown pass.
They made it 26-14 with a three-play, 45-yard drive capped by Prosise’s 24-yard run but lost Zaire when he appeared to roll his ankle on a designed run that gained three yards.
Zaire was helped off the field and later taken to the locker room on a cart.