Notre Dame didn't put Boston College away until the final whistle Saturday, but the No. 24 Irish will take a gusty victory on Senior Day.
Notre Dame scored a 16-14 victory to send a group of 39 seniors out of Notre Dame Stadium with a happy memory.
"It's a win," quarterback Tommy Rees said. "It wasn't pretty. It wasn't, at times, the most successful offense we've had, obviously. Anytime you can get a win this late in November, you'll take it."
Notre Dame's defense did most of the work Saturday as the No. 24 Irish (8-3) only got one touchdown – a 26-yard run by Jonas Gray to cap the game's opening drive – and settled for three field goals.
Boston College started with the ball in Notre Dame territory twice in the second half, and both times had to punt it away. If you take away the Eagles' scoring drives of 80 and 72 yards, the Irish limited BC to 98 yards of offense.
"Everybody was just getting to the ball," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "Everybody was trying to make a big play. Everybody was doing their assignment. That's what makes good defense. Everybody is 1/11th of the defense.
"We are going to win and lose as a team. We kept battling as a team. It was a good team win."
The battling goes beyond the defense needing to pick things up for a struggling offense.
The Irish were without two starters against the Eagles (3-8) as receiver Theo Riddick missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury and freshman defensive end Stephon Tuitt didn't play because of illness.
Plus, plenty of Notre Dame players were not at their peak physical shape going into the game.
"We had (safety) Harrison Smith in the infirmary last night, getting IVs," coach Brian Kelly said. "We had (left tackle) Zack Martin out, Stephon Tuitt couldn't play because of illness. (Cornerback Robert) Blanton didn't practice for two days because of illness, and I didn't give you all the injuries.
"My point is this: Those kids stepped up in November and with a lot of guys out found a way to win."
As banged up or ill as Notre Dame was coming into the game, everyone felt a little sick when Jonas Gray had to leave in the third quarter Saturday.
The senior running break was enjoying a breakout season until a right knee injury forced him out of the game against Boston College.
Gray sat on the sideline with his knee wrapped in ice, receiving condolences from teammates, in the third quarter before finally making his way back to the locker room.
NBC sideline reporter Alex Flannigan said Gray appeared to suffer an ACL injury, but Kelly wouldn't speculate on the extent of the injury.
"They want to get an MRI and get a good look at that," Kelly said of Gray's knee. "He talked to the team after. He's a great young man, you know, it's just, it's emotional when you don't know if you're going to be able to play your last game or not. It's still uncertain until he get more medical information. There is a lot of emotions in that locker room."
Gray had only run for 309 yards on 75 carries in his three seasons before this year.
The senior started the season on a bad note with a fumble on the season-opening drive in an eventual 23-20 loss to South Florida on Sept. 3.
From there Gray turned his year and career around. He ran for a touchdown for the eight straight game Saturday, giving him 12 for the season.
Gray finished with 61 yards against Boston College to give him 791 for the season.
"It's the hardest thing," Te'o said of seeing Gray get injured. "I never wish upon any player, let alone a senior. Let alone, a guy like Jonas, who put in so much work and sacrifices so much for this team.
"He is one of the leaders on this team, but just because he is not on the field, knowing Jonas, it's not going to stop him from making an impact on this team."
Te'o said when Gray addressed the team after the game the senior talked about being grateful to play for Notre Dame and the focus was on the team.
"We are all on his side," receiver Michael Floyd said of Gray. "We're sorry it happened to him, but we are going stick with him. We are going to communicate with him. He's still a big part of this team."
Not always pretty
There were times Saturday when Notre Dame's offense was down right ugly for a team that gained 417 yards.
The Irish had three drives in a row end with punts in the first half, and in the second half, Notre Dame's drives ended with a punt, interception, punt, punt, field goal, punt and punt.
"I think they are a good defensive group," said Kelly, whose team had five drives start inside its 10-yard line. "Field position had a great deal to do with it, the weather, and clearly we missed a lot of opportunities, but Boston College played well."
The most surprising thing about the offensive struggles stemmed from how well the Irish started the game. Notre Dame marched 80 yards on eight plays in 2:22 seconds for the day's first touchdown, a 26-yard run by Gray.
After that, the Irish settled for the first of three David Ruffer field goals.
"You know, they did some different things throughout the game," said Rees, who completed 24 of 39 passes for 256 yards. "I don't know quite what the difference was, but I think the first drive went well. I'm happy for how we performed throughout the day, gutting out a win."