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The Journal Gazette

  • Notre Dame's Michael Young, right, celebrates his touchdown against Northwestern with Notre Dame's Chris Finke Saturday in Evanston, Ill. The No. 3 Irish can complete a perfect home record with a win over Florida State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jim Young)

Thursday, November 08, 2018 1:00 am

Irish seniors put sentiment aside

Focus on beating Florida State, not final home game

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame vs. Florida State

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Records: Notre Dame (9-0), Florida State (4-5)

TV: NBC

Radio: 1190 AM, 100.9 FM

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame center Sam Mustipher remembers the first time he ran out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium. It was 2014 and the Irish were set to take on Rice in the season opener.

“The first time running out, there's nothing like that,” said the fifth-year senior, one of Notre Dame's captains. “The first kickoff, it's incredible. There's a ton of great memories I have in this stadium, but nothing tops your first time running out of the tunnel.”

For Mustipher and his fellow seniors, Saturday's matchup against Florida State will be the final time they get to run out of the tunnel and play in front of the fans at Notre Dame Stadium. The thought of stepping on the field in South Bend for the last time was enough to put some players, like Mustipher, in a contemplative mood.

“I'm sure it'll be a special night for me and my family members to celebrate my career at Notre Dame,” said the center, who has made 33 consecutive starts. “You come into Notre Dame as a student, as an athlete, as a young man and you kind of don't know what to expect.

“You know it's going to be difficult, you know you made the difficult decision of coming here. ... Knowing that you stuck with the process, you finished it out, I got my degree and I'm doing my best to lead this team to our other goal of winning the national championship.”

Mustipher insisted he was more focused on beating Florida State than looking back on his career at Notre Dame Stadium.

Teammate Drue Tranquill, another fifth-year senior, felt similarly. Improving to 10-0 is the most important task Saturday; soaking in the moment comes second.

“I want to win, I think that's the focal point, first and foremost,” said Tranquill, a Fort Wayne native and Carroll graduate. “It's a long journey, I'm sure I'll have a lot more emotions, ... after the game. I'm just going to continue to prepare and the most important thing is winning and keeping this dream alive.”

After playing limited snaps against Northwestern because of a sprained ankle, Tranquill said he's still working on the injury “day-by-day” and spending time in the training room.

He felt strong enough in warm-ups Saturday to play every snap, but he and the coaches eventually decided that wasn't smart for the long term.

It's unclear whether he'll be 100 percent this week, but the team's second-leading tackler is fully in control of his own playing time.

“It really doesn't matter what anybody says,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “It just matters what Drue says. Drue tells me he's playing every down. He's committed that he believes he is in a good position that he can play every down this weekend.”

The matchup against Florida State is about more than the seniors playing their last game, however. The whole team set a goal before the season to go undefeated at home.

It's not the most important goal the No. 3 Irish have for themselves, but it is the first that is actually within reach. One more win means a 6-0 record at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 2012.

“It's always a big deal to go undefeated at home,” wide receiver Chris Finke said. “You've got your family there, your friends there, the students there. It's always to fun to make them proud and protect your house and just know that nobody can come in there and take that away from you.

“That'll be special if we can accomplish that this weekend.”

dsinn@jg.net