With 1:22 left in the game, Michigan trailed Notre Dame, 24-21.
But with the ball 1st-and-10 at the Notre Dame 21-yard line, the Wolverines had a great opportunity to complete an unlikely comeback after trailing 24-7 late in the third quarter.
If the game had ended right there it still would have been another exciting chapter between two of the most tradition-rich programs in NCAA football history.
But what happened during the next 82 seconds, with the teams combining for three touchdowns and very nearly a fourth, would not only bring a stunning conclusion to the first night game in Michigan history but dazzle the entire the nation.
The First 3518 Seconds
Notre Dame scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and added a field goal before halftime. Michigan managed a touchdown in the second quarter and trailed the Irish 17-7 heading in the second half.
The Irish scored another touchdown in the third quarter going up 24-7 and things started to look bleak for the Wolverines.
With the Irish dominating time of possession, the game seemed to be slipping away.
But then the Wolverines got a lucky break.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Michigan running back Stephen Hopkins was stuffed at the goal line. From deep within the pile of tangled bodies the football squirted out to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who scooped it up and sprinted for the touchdown. The successful extra point made the score 24-14 in favor of Notre Dame.
On the next Wolverine possession, Robinson found Jeremy Gallon in the end zone with a 14-yard pass that, after a successful extra point, brought his team within a field goal of Notre Dame, 24-21.
The Irish drove down the field, but lost the ball in the red zone, missing an opportunity to add to their lead.
On the scoreboard the Fighting Irish were leading, but on the field the Wolverines had all the momentum.
On the subsequent drive, Michigan moved down the field and seemed poised to finally take the lead from the Irish—right up until Denard Robinson was picked off in the end zone for his third interception of the night.
Once again the Michigan defense stopped the Irish, and once again the Wolverines offense moved down the field with hopes of securing the victory.
The Final 82 Seconds
1st-and-10 at the 21-yard line, Denard Robinson found Vincent Smith as he scurried out of the backfield. Smith broke for the end zone and scored the touchdown. The Wolverines made the extra point and secured their first lead of the night, 28-24.
But the Irish weren’t done.
They easily and perhaps most importantly, speedily, completed a 61-yard drive culminating in a 29-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to a wide open Theo Riddick regaining the lead, 31-28.
The Wolverines began their final drive of the game from their own 20-yard line with 30 seconds showing on the clock. The first play was an incomplete pass which burned seven valuable seconds off the clock.
On the next play Denard Robinson, under pressure, scrambled right and lofted a pass from his own 15-yard line to Jeremy Gallon who caught the ball underneath coverage at the Notre Dame 45-yard line. Gallon cut across the field and went out of bounds at the 16-yard line leaving a mere eight seconds on the clock.
Forgoing the field goal attempt which could have forced overtime, Michigan went for the win.
Denard Robinson dropped back and found Roy Roundtree for the 16-yard touchdown, his only reception of the night.
Wolverine fans were absolutely delirious, Michigan 35 Notre Dame 31.
But there were still 2 seconds left.
Michigan squibbed the kick and incredibly nearly recovered the ball for another touchdown before it bounced out of the end zone, finally ending the game.
A Performance for the Ages
Denard Robinson finished the night with 446 total yards of total offense (338 passing, 108 rushing) and 4 touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing) while accounting for 99 percent of the Michigan’s offensive yardage. Combined with his 2010 performance against Notre Dame—502 total yards of offense (244 passing, 258 rushing) and 3 touchdown (1 passing, 2 rushing)—Robinson completed an amazing two-year period of statistical domination against the Fighting Irish, the likes of which they hope to never see again.
Michigan Stadium is known as a sedate atmosphere compared to many college football venues around the country.
But on this historic night, with the moon shining down amid a swirl of maize pompoms, the Wolverine faithful had cheered as loud as any fans in country.
And in return they were rewarded with a victory for the ages.