Bronx, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Tommy Rees threw for 319 yards and Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals to help 25th-ranked Notre Dame claim a 29-16 win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl from Yankee Stadium.
Three of Brindza's makes came during a second half in which the Fighting Irish outscored the Scarlet Knights by a 16-3 count to prevail and wrap up a mildly disappointing 2013 season on a good note.
Rees completed 27-of-47 passes in a turnover-free effort in the senior quarterback's final collegiate game.
"He just has the ability to pick up all the things we can do offensively and today was a case in point," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of Rees. "We were able to do some things we haven't done in a couple of years and it looked like it was pretty easy for him."
Tarean Folston and T.J. Jones added rushing touchdowns for Notre Dame (9-4), with Cam McDaniel churning out 80 of the Irish's 175 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
Notre Dame also intercepted Chaz Dodd three times that contributed to Rutgers (6-7) losing for a sixth time in seven games following a 4-1 start.
Dodd finished just 10-of-28 for 156 yards with a touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman, who had 65 yards on a pair of catches.
The heavily favored Fighting Irish went into halftime tied at 13-13 against a game Rutgers squad, but dominated on both sides of the ball over the final two quarters to slowly pull away.
Notre Dame's offense set the tone with a mammoth 15-play, 71-yard drive that consumed nearly half of the third-quarter clock and was extended by McDaniel's 8-yard burst on 4th-and-1. The Irish nearly came up empty when Brindza pushed a 31-yard field goal try wide left, but a penalty for running into the kicker gave him a reprieve and he converted a 26-yard second chance to send Notre Dame ahead.
A 51-yard punt by the Knights' Nick Marsh pinned Notre Dame back to its own three on its next possession, but Rees led the Irish the length of the field to get his team back in scoring range. He hit Troy Niklas for a 26-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 to put the ball inside the Rutgers 10, though the offense again bogged down in the red zone and Brindza came on for his fourth make of the day, a 25-yarder for a 19-13 lead with 12:46 remaining.
"Late in the game there I gave it some thought to maybe just run some clock and go for it on fourth down, because I'm worried about getting a blocked kick there, get it returned and put them back in the game," said Kelly. "But [Brindza] is so good in the fourth quarter. Regardless of what the distance is, you've got to put [in] that guy. He's the best kicker. I've got to put him on the field, and he goes and kicks the field goal regardless of the conditions."
The Scarlet Knights' Janarion Grant then took the ensuing kickoff 44 yards across midfield, and a 10-yard run by Paul James positioned Rutgers for Kyle Federico's 47-yard field goal that cut the deficit to three.
Notre Dame countered with another long drive, a 10-play, 79-yard sequence highlighted by a 28-yard catch from Niklas and three big runs from Folston, who capped the trek by crossing the goal line from three yards out to put Rutgers in a 26-16 hole with 3:38 left.
Dan Fox then all but sealed the win by intercepting Dodd at the Knights' 36 on the next play from scrimmage, with Brindza tacking on a 26-yard field goal to account for the final score.
"We had opportunities in the second half that we just didn't capitalize on," said Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood. "We had two great kickoff returns by Janarion Grant, getting the ball at the plus 47, getting the ball at the plus 45, and only yield three points."
Notre Dame marched 71 yards in 14 plays to open the game, but the drive stalled inside the Rutgers five and resulted in Brindza's 21-yard field goal. Jones fumbled a punt at his own 21-yard line after the Scarlet Knights went three-and-out, however, with the miscue leading to a Federico 36-yard field goal that knotted the score at 3-3 midway through the first quarter.
Jones atoned for the giveaway by coming up with two big plays on the Fighting Irish's next touch, hauling in a 22-yard pass from Rees to give Notre Dame a 1st-and-goal and taking a handoff for an 8-yard score on the following snap to put his team back ahead.
Rutgers answered via the combination of Dodd and Coleman, who teamed up for a 51-yard deep pass and a 14-yard touchdown on a well-thrown ball by the Knights' quarterback to forge a 10-10 deadlock late in the first quarter.
Dodd was picked off by Kendall Moore deep in Rutgers territory early in the second, however, though the Scarlet Knights' defense forced two Rees incompletions that caused the Irish to settle for Brindza's 38-yard go-ahead field goal.
Rutgers again had a response on the ensuing series, putting together a 12- play, 63-yard jaunt highlighted by Dodd's 19-yard scramble on 3rd-and-10. The Irish twice stopped the Knights at the 1-yard line, though, and Flood opted for Federico to make an 18-yard field goal that drew Rutgers even once more.
The Scarlet Knights had a chance to go in front prior to halftime after getting down to the Notre Dame 20 with three minutes left, but running back Justin Goodwin's option pass was well underthrown and intercepted by Keivare Russell at the 1-yard line.
Notre Dame suspended running back George Atkinson, the team's second-leading rusher during the season, and reserve cornerback Jalen Brown prior to kickoff for violating team rules ... Brindza's five field goals matched a career high set against USC last season ... The Irish outgained Rutgers by a 494-236 margin in total yards ... The Scarlet Knights went 0-6 against bowl-eligible teams this season ... Coleman's TD catch was the 20th of his career, tying Tim Brown for the most in Rutgers history ... Notre Dame improved to 5-0 all-time against the Scarlet Knights, having outscored Rutgers by a 197-17 count in the four previous matchups.