AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – For the second straight week, Tommy Rees found himself on the sideline.
This time, though, it wasn’t because of a strained neck but rather a stellar showing.
Rees was given the fourth quarter off after throwing a career-high five touchdown passes to help Notre Dame rout Air Force 45-10 on Saturday.
The senior was on target all day, completing 17 of 22 passes for 284 yards as the Irish (6-2) won their third straight. Rees now has 54 career TD passes and moves past Ron Powlus for third place in team history.
I felt really good out there, Rees said.
That’s quite a contrast from last week when Rees left the game with a neck ailment in the third quarter of a win over USC. Rees was solid all week in practice and sensational Saturday as he picked apart the secondary of the Falcons (1-7), who dropped their seventh straight game.
Rees spread the ball around as he tossed TD strikes to Corey Robinson, the son of former NBA star David Robinson, William Fuller, Ben Koyack, TJ Jones and Chris Brown. It was the first time in school history the Irish have had five different receivers catch a TD pass.
Tommy was great tonight, Jones said. He showcased why we have so much faith in him. He’s able to make those plays on a consistent basis.
Rees became the fourth Notre Dame quarterback to throw 50 or more TDs, joining Powlus (52), Jimmy Clausen (60) and Brady Quinn (95).
Even more, this was the 20th win of Rees’ career, tying him with Joe Theismann and John Lujack for ninth most for a starting QB in Notre Dame history.
He just shrugged when asked about being linked with an array of former standout Notre Dame quarterbacks.
I’m not too in tune with all that stuff, Rees said. I’m sure when my career is over that I’ll look back and be appreciative of some of the things I was able to do. Right now, the focus is week in and week out finding a way to be the best quarterback for this team and try to win games.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was certainly impressed.
When we needed a play, he was able to make it, Kelly said.
Notre Dame freshman linebacker and former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith had a team-high eight tackles, including one for loss. He also recovered a fumble.
Nate Romine started for Karson Roberts at quarterback for the Falcons, becoming the fourth different quarterback the team has used this season.
Romine was fourth string out of fall camp but moved up the depth chart because of injuries and an academic ineligibility. Roberts suffered a concussion two weeks ago against San Diego State but recently returned to practice. He entered the game in the fourth in relief of Romine.
At times, Romine effectively ran the triple-option attack of Air Force, gashing Notre Dame’s defense for big gains. But the Falcons fumbled the ball away twice inside Notre Dame territory, thwarting promising drives with the game still close.
When you make mistakes against really good teams, they’re magnified even more, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
The loss ended any chance of Air Force becoming bowl eligible for a seventh straight season under Calhoun.
Air Force scored first when Colton Huntsman took a pitch from Romine and scrambled in from 10 yards out. Notre Dame answered right back, with Rees finding Robinson and then Fuller to give the Irish a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was the first career TD reception for both Robinson and Fuller.
Right before halftime, the Falcons had a chance to slice into the lead, but Anthony LaCoste fumbled inside the red zone and KeiVarae Russell recovered the ball to preserve a 24-10 lead.
On the opening drive to start the second half, Romine led the Falcons down the field only to lose the ball as he scrambled away from pressure. Jaylon Smith scooped it up and raced 62 yards for what appeared to be a score, but officials ruled it an incomplete pass and blew the play dead. After a brief review, the call was reversed to a fumble, though, with Notre Dame getting the ball at the 38.
It didn’t take long for Rees to capitalize as he found Jones for his fourth TD of the game, matching the total he had against Air Force on Oct. 8, 2011, and again on Oct. 30, 2010, versus Tulsa.
He set a personal-best on the next drive with a 15-yard pass to Brown in the corner of the end zone.