ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When it was over, Michigan took one last swipe at Notre Dame before the Fighting Irish said goodbye to the Big House — at least for a while.
Devin Gardner, wearing No. 98 to honor Michigan great Tom Harmon, threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score to lead the 17th-ranked Wolverines to a 41-30 win over the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish.
Soon after Gardner took the final snap, the “Chicken Dance” blared over the stadium sound system, and the Michigan fans who made up most of the NCAA-record crowd of 115,109 celebrated.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the series four months ago, drawing laughs at a luncheon. The Irish opted out of their contract with the Wolverines and made next year’s game in South Bend, Ind., the last guaranteed matchup in a series that dates to 1887 and cancelling three previously scheduled games.
Hoke insisted he didn’t tell his team that Irish coach Brian Kelly kicked off the week by saying the series was “a big regional game” even though it features teams with the top winning percentages in college football. Hoke would acknowledge, though, that he and his players were pretty fired up to face the Irish.
“There’s certain games that you get very excited about,” Hoke said.
Michigan has won four straight at home against the Irish.
That winning streak will stand for a while because the two storied programs won’t play at the Big House again anytime soon.
The Irish will likely be among next year’s opponents hoping Gardner doesn’t return for his final season of eligibility.
Gardner sealed the victory with a 4-yard TD pass to Drew Dileo with 4:18 left and ran for 14 yards to convert the final third down in the final seconds to set off a celebration.
Gardner was 21 of 33 for 294 yards. His one interception was costly, though. Trying to avoid a sack in the end zone, he flipped a pass to no one in particular that defensive end Stephon Tuitt came up with to give Notre Dame hope.
Gardner also ran 13 times for 82 yards and a score.
He traded in his No. 12 for a unique number for a quarterback these days, sporting No. 98 with a Michigan Football Legend patch. Harmon became Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 1940.
“It’s an amazing feeling to wear that number,” Gardner said. “I knew about all the great things that he did on the field, but there are all the other things he did. He played two years of basketball, he fought for his country and he was a great human being. It’s an honor to know that his family felt I deserved to wear that jersey.”
The Wolverines (2-0) had a pair of 14-point leads, but the Fighting Irish (1-1) refused to be routed.
Notre Dame pulled within a TD early in the fourth quarter when Tuitt made a diving interception in the end zone — a few snaps after the Irish turned the ball over on downs — on a pass Gardner was trying to throw away to avoid a safety.
“I made a horrible decision,” Gardner said. “But the defense gave me a place to stand. They told me they believed in me and I finished it.”
Kyle Brindza made a 40-yard field goal with 9:15 left to pull Notre Dame within four points.
The Irish were called for pass interference twice — once on a questionable call when Bennett Jackson intercepted Gardner’s pass deep in Notre Dame territory — on the ensuing drive and Gardner later took advantage by accounting for a fifth TD.
Tommy Rees threw a second interception with 1:29 left.
“We came up just short on some key plays,” Kelly said.
Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon had career highs with three TDs and 184 yards receiving.
“I can’t even imagine having a game like this,” he said. “My teammates made this happen, not me.”
Fitzgerald Toussaint gave the Wolverines just enough of a running game, gaining 71 yards on 22 carries and he also turned a short pass into a 31-yard catch on the final scoring drive.
Rees was 29 of 51 for 314 yards with two TDs and two interceptions — both to Blake Countess. The first pick helped Michigan take a 27-13 lead at halftime.
“I’d like to have that one throw right before the half back,” Kelly said.
That was one of many passes Rees lamented.
“I take accountability for some of those throws and missed opportunities,” Rees said.
TJ Jones had nine receptions for 94 yards and a TD. Amir Carlisle ran for 64 yards on 12 attempts for the Irish.
The attendance record beat the one set two years ago when the Wolverines beat Notre Dame 35-31 — a game with three lead changes in the last 1:12 — that captivated 114,804 at Michigan Stadium.