SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A Montana leading a Notre Dame squad to a come-from-behind victory. Except for the fact it was only a meaningless spring game, what more could a Fighting Irish fan ask for?
Nate Montana, son of former Notre Dame and San Francisco 49er great Joe Montana, threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns, two in a little over four minutes late in the second quarter, to lead the Gold to a 27-19 victory over the Blue squad Saturday.
More importantly for Irish fans, Dayne Crist, the expected starter, looked solid in completing 20 of 31 passes for 172 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
"I thought he did some good things — threw the ball in the seam, the vertical push throws that we've tried to get into our offense quite a bit," coach Brian Kelly said.
Crist, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee nearly six months ago, said he tried to force a few passes, but was pleased with how he played. He said learning Kelly's spread offense, especially with how fast it's run at practice, was overwhelming at first. He said the pace of the spring game felt slow.
"Because you're waiting for referees to spot the ball it makes the game slow down a little bit, and I'm sure some fatigue set in with some guys," he said. "But we'll work through that."
While Montana, a walk-on, isn't expected to get major playing time next fall, he is the backup at this point, although he will be competing with three freshmen this fall. Kelly said Montana, who completed 18 of 30 passes with one interception, needs to be more consistent.
"Nate does some things really well, and then I'll lose him for a couple of plays," he said. "He hasn't played a lot of college football, obviously, and consistency is the one area that he has to show."
Montana was a reserve quarterback in high school. He took last fall off from Notre Dame and played at Pasadena City (Calif.) College where he was a backup, completing 31-of-88 passes with five interceptions and two touchdowns.
He said Saturday was his best practice.
"Everything felt like it was running smooth," he said. "I had a lot of confidence in what I was doing."
Although Kelly said the game was set up to make the offense look good, with the defense keeping things simple, he was particularly pleased with the tailbacks' play. Cierre Wood, who didn't play as a freshman last season, ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including a 44-yard score. Jonas Gray had a 38-yard touchdown run.
Both runs were longer than any the Irish had all last season.
"I would say that the running back position is one that I feel really good after this game about the depth and the ability of that position," Kelly said.
Kelly said he sees areas the Irish can build on, adding that there's a lot of work to be done.
"This is the first series of tests for our team, and they did a very good job," he said. "We're developing a mental and physical toughness and shoring up some of the areas that I think we needed to shore up."
The game, played under overcast skies with some showers, drew a crowd of 27,241. That was well shy of the record 51,852 fans who showed up three years ago for Jimmy Clausen's first appearance after enrolling in January, but about average for the past decade or so.