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5 field goals lift Irish over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees  (11) throws pass as lineman Mark Harrell (75) blocks Rutgers' Marcus Thomps(48) during first

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees (11) throws a pass as lineman Mark Harrell (75) blocks Rutgers' Marcus Thompson (48) during the first half of the Pinstripe Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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Updated: December 28, 2013 8:01PM

NEW YORK — The field conditions were sloppy.

And for large stretches of Saturday’s Pinstripe Bowl, so was the play.

Still, Notre Dame found a way to end a disappointing 2013 season on a positive note, defeating Rutgers 29-16 in front of 47,122 fans at Yankee Stadium.

“It was a good year that could have been a great year,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Some really good victories … a couple of missed opportunities in some games where we very easily could have been a team that’s looking at double-digit wins. That’s where we want to be every year.

“It was a good year, but we want more. It’s not enough for us. 9-4 is a good year for Notre Dame, it’s not what we sign up for every year.”

The Irish reached the nine-win mark behind the leg of kicker Kyle Brindza, who had made five field goals.

“My favorite athlete is [recently retired New York Yankee pitcher Mariano] Rivera and the reason why is because he’s the closer and that’s how I’d like to think of myself,” Brindza said.

Brindza made a 25-yard field goal with 6:03 left in the third quarter to give Notre Dame a 16-13 lead. He added field goals of 25 and 49 yards in the fourth quarter.

“Kyle Brindza, when we need a kick, he drills one late in the game,” Kelly said. “When you have a guy like Kyle Brindza that is so good in the fourth quarter, regardless of what the distance is, I’ve got to put him on the field.”

Wide receiver TJ Jones and running back Tarean Folston rushed for touchdowns. Folston’s 3-yard touchdown stretched Notre Dame’s lead to 26-16 with 3:38 remaining.

Linebacker Dan Fox intercepted a pass to end Rutgers’ ensuing drive. It was one of four interceptions for the Irish.

Cornerback KeiVarae Russell had a big day, breaking up three passes and intercepting another.

“As far as coverage-wise, this is the best game I’ve ever had so far,” Russell said.

The Irish needed all of that in a game that wasn’t all that pretty.

“Our goal all along was we’re coming here to win a game and we were able to do that,” said quarterback Tommy Rees, who had 319 passing yards. “Hat’s off to Rutgers for playing a great game, but I’m really proud the way we persevered.”

Players and refs slipped while running.

“There was a hard frost on [the field] and then the sun began to soften it up. There were some areas that were a bit slick,” Kelly said. “It didn’t affect the outcome of the game in any fashion. We’ve played in worse conditions than that.”

Both teams had several chances to cash in with touchdowns. More often than not, those drives ended with field goals. Rutgers (6-7) scored a touchdown on just 1 of 6 red-zone chances, while Notre Dame was 2 of 5.

“Our red-zone offense (issues) today was simply catching the football. We had great looks, exactly what we wanted,” Kelly said. “I’m really happy with what we did today in the red zone, we just didn’t execute. We have to throw it and catch it down there. When we needed to run it in, we were able to run it in.”

And the Irish did just enough to send the seniors out with a win.

“They’ll leave an indelible mark in our relationship here amongst not only the staff and myself,” Kelly said, “but the younger players that we hope that they’ll carry with them.”


Twitter: @lamondpope

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