SOUTH BEND – The 57th edition of the Shillelagh Trophy ended just as it had started: A tightly-contested, low scoring game that came down to its final plays.
The Purdue Boilermakers (2-1) took a 27-13 loss to the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0) in a game that was closer than it looked for a while on a warm and sunny day in South Bend, Indiana.
"Give credit to Notre Dame," head coach Jeff Brohm said. "They outplayed us."
A sea of tens-of-thousands of fans dressed in green filled Notre Dame Stadium to watch the first edition of the rivalry in seven years. Waves of cheers emanated throughout the stadium as students and older fans alike rocked the venue after every play, waving green flags in support of their hometown Irish.
Hundreds of tailgaters would join them in the outside parking lots and beyond, eager to catch what would be a third win on the season for Notre Dame. Closely-packed families enjoyed gameday cookout classics from the comfort of their vehicles, watching carefully from their own TV screens as the Irish fought a close battle with the Boilermakers.
While Purdue had seemingly found its stride on offense during the first snap after four plays with positive yardage, a false start on junior tight end Payne Durham snuffed out any chance the Boilermakers had at scoring a touchdown. Purdue would have to settle for a made field goal from graduate kicker Mitchell Fineran.
Just when it seemed Purdue's secondary would continue to hold the Irish for smaller gains, Notre Dame receiver Avery Davis burned senior safety Chris Jefferson for a wide open 62-yard touchdown reception. It would be the Irish's fourth play of 20 yards or more, three of which came from passing plays.
Purdue's first touchdown came after two diving catches from junior receivers Milton Wright and David Bell. Bell tumbled backwards on a pass interference call, still finding a way to catch the ball just as he hit the ground. Another pass interference call from smothering coverage would give Purdue one more chance to catch up with the Irish, a chance it took advantage of with a dime to Wright in the left of the end zone.
The Boilermakers would try to chip away at the Irish defense with rhythmic screen passes, moving a couple yards at a time in an attempt to inch their way to the end zone. Notre Dame would catch on quickly, however, forcing several missed passes and tackles in the back field for yet another punt from freshman punter Jack Ansell.
Purdue would sub in senior quarterback Aidan O'Connell to try and pull off a potential game-tying drive with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Boilermakers would find some breathing room with a 27-yard completed pass to senior receiver Jackson Anthrop, but Notre Dame's defense quickly adapted and forced more short or incomplete pass attempts.
Junior running back Kyren Williams all but sealed the game with a 51-yard touchdown run after breaking through three Purdue tackles. A Purdue defender tried to force a fumble from Williams with a "Peanut Punch," or an attempt to punch the ball out of the carrier's hands named after former Chicago Bears cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman, to no avail.
Bell, Anthrop and Durham would again lead the Boilermakers in receptions, combining for 20 catches and 183 yards. Junior running back King Doerue and freshman running back Dylan Downing combined for 59 rushing yards on 18 attempts in place of senior running back Zander Horvath.
Brohm praised junior cornerback Jamari Brown after the game, saying he played hard even after a pass interference play. The defense overall, he said, was well-improved from last season.
Senior linebacker Jaylan Alexander agreed, saying this team had the "perfect coaching staff" to support an aggressive and overall great culture on defense.
"Today was just another step in our play," Alexander said. "We just need to get 1% better every day."
Already plagued with injuries, Purdue's starting lineup took another loss after Bell took several minutes to get up. He took a shot to the helmet from Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, sending him head-first into the ground with the ball in his hands.
The team, coaching staff and referees gathered around Bell to show their support and help out the star receiver. Bell had to be carted off the field after the injury. Purdue later confirmed Bell was "up and walking" after a medical evaluation.
"From here on out, every game is going to be like this," Brohm said. "We're just going to have to play better overall if we want to win."
Purdue's All-American Marching Band compensated for the absence of the "World's Biggest Drum" by marching in a drum formation at halftime. The mere mention of the drum brought boos from the Notre Dame crowd, which didn't change when the band played "Hail Purdue."
The bands would continue to battle as the game raged on, playing their respective fight songs on full blast whenever they had the chance. Notre Dame's band played the Killers' "Mr. Brightside" after a pre-recorded player vote chose the song over "I Want to Dance with Somebody" by Whitney Houston.
The air force pilots who flew A-10 Thunderbolt planes over Notre Dame Stadium before the start of the game, most of whom were Notre Dame graduates, were given a standing ovation from both groups of fans towards the middle of the fourth quarter.
Purdue will start its trek across a grueling Big Ten schedule when it plays the Illinois Fighting Illini (1-3) at Ross-Ade Stadium at 3:30 p.m next Saturday. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
• The Boilermakers are now 26-59-2 all-time against the Fighting Irish with a 11-31 mark in South Bend.
• David Bell finished with seven receptions for 64 yards. The junior is now 19 yards shy of the 2,000-yard mark for his career.
• Purdue's defense was a nuisance in the backfield in the first half with five tackles-for-loss.
• Jackson Anthrop hauled in seven receptions for a career-high 90 yards.
• Mitchell Fineran went 2-for-2 on field goals, both were 34 yards. He has now made seven in a row dating back to his time at Samford last spring.
– Purdue Athletics contributed to this report.