Notre Dame found itself in a tight spot during its football home opener against East Ridge on Friday night at Jim Eberle Field. The Irish, who had lost on the road a week earlier, were facing a third-and-long and trailed the surging Pioneers by a touchdown.
With early-season momentum seemingly against them, the Irish could have felt they were up the proverbial creek without a paddle. But the Irish knew they had a mighty Orr -- Kareem Orr, to be exact.
In the span of 56 seconds in the second quarter, Orr pulled the Irish clear of the Pioneers with a 55-yard touchdown reception and a 23-yard interception TD return in leading Notre Dame to a 21-9 victory.
Orr's first touchdown -- a leaping grab of a Clay Heltzel pass over two Pioneers defenders -- appeared to settle the Irish quarterback, who was starting his first varsity game in place of injured Alex Darras. Three plays after the ensuing kickoff, Orr picked off a deflected pass and took it home to give the Irish a lead they would not relinquish.
"East Ridge is a very good football team and they brought it to us early," Notre Dame coach Charles Fant said. "But those two plays really changed the momentum of the game. Momentum is everything. Kareem made a great catch. He's an unbelievable player. From that point on, we felt like we got back control of the game. It's always great to get a win. We feel fortunate tonight."
After a scoreless first quarter dominated by both defenses, the Pioneers grabbed the momentum when Deangelo Johnson intercepted a Hentzel pass thrown from deep in Irish territory. Johnson, who was a disruptive force on defense, grabbed the pass at the Irish 25 and ran it back to the 8-yard line, with Joe Enos and Ricky Ballard making a touchdown-saving tackle.
Three plays later, Dominique Millener scampered around right end from 5 yards out to put East Ridge up 7-0 with 6:06 left in the second quarter. The score further inspired the East Ridge defense, which had backed Notre Dame up to a third-and-20 from the Irish 38-yard-line. It was at that point Orr made his lasting impact on the game.
"I felt like I needed to step up and help my team out. I had to get in there and get it done," said Orr, who totaled four receptions for 133 yards, two interceptions and six tackles.
East Ridge (0-2) pulled within 14-9 with a safety, but Notre Dame linebacker Brandon Harris gave the Irish more breathing room with a 17-yard fumble return for a TD, and Orr thwarted another drive with his second interception.
East Ridge was led by Millener, who collected 60 yards on 19 carries. Enos led the Irish defense with nine tackles and six assists.
"I thought we gave a great effort tonight and I am proud of my kids," said East Ridge coach Tracy Malone. "They gave a great effort. We'll start back to work on Monday."
Contact Greg Thompson at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.