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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

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Mitchell puts exclamation point on Blue team victory

Graduate transfer receiver hauls in decisive, 62-yard touchdown in 28-21 win

The 2024 Blue-Gold Game marked the culmination of the spring season for Notre Dame football. The game finished 28-21 in favor of the Blue team after a back-and-forth second half shootout. 

Sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli got the Blue team underway on the first drive of the game. After converting a fourth down, Angeli and the offense were forced to settle for a 50-yard field goal that graduate kicker Mitch Jeter missed just short.

The Gold team started with freshman quarterback Kenny Minchey at the helm and went three-and-out on its first drive. Starting on their own 25, Angeli and the Blue team opened up the scoring, putting together a methodical, 13-play drive that included three third-down conversions, the last of them a connection with Eli Raridon for the touchdown. The sophomore tight end made an impressive adjustment, securing a bobbled ball and powering into the end zone.

Taking the place of junior Mitchell Evans, who continues to nurse last season’s torn ACL, Raridon took on a significant workload in the Blue team’s passing game, logging seven targets in the game. Junior wide receiver Deion Colzie also featured heavily, earning eight targets of his own. His matchup with sophomore corner Christian Gray was one to watch all game. While Gray got the better of him on multiple occasions, Colzie grabbed four catches for 58 yards.  

The second drive didn’t go much better for the Gold team. After a false start led to third-and-13, Minchey took an ill-advised risk forcing a ball downfield with pressure bearing down. Freshman safety Luke Talich intercepted it and set up the Blue team near midfield.

Getting his first reps of the day, freshman quarterback CJ Carr capitalized on the favorable starting field position and led an eight-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that extended the Blue team’s lead to 14-0. The highly-touted freshman completed three of his four passes during the drive before handing off to fellow freshman Aneyas Williams for the 7-yard score. In his snaps for both the Blue and Gold teams, Carr looked poised in the pocket, his mobility and smart decision-making on display in the face of pressure.

After a shaky start with the interception, Minchey also flashed his talent for the Gold team. He threw for 123 yards and rushed for 40, including multiple first-down scrambles on broken plays. Before the half, he scored on a designed quarterback keeper to cut the lead to a score. After the half, he tied the game at 14 for the Gold team on a deep ball connection with freshman receiver Micah Gilbert that he delivered through a big hit. When asked about his young, up-and-coming quarterbacks, Freeman praised their performance in the game and all throughout the last few months of practice.

“I love the decision-making just from being back there and watching them,” Freeman said. “They’ve been progressing all spring … I was really pleased overall, and the entire spring, with what all three of those guys have done with the groups they have been in there with and the production they have provided this offense.”  

The continued development of Carr and Minchey in an experienced quarterback room with Angeli and Leonard will be one of the stories of the offseason. 

Following the game-tying touchdown, Angeli and the Blue team offense retook the field searching for a quick answer. Facing a third-and-long early in the drive, freshman running back Jeremiyah Love showed his explosiveness on a 32-yard first-down reception that got the drive in motion. The Blue team later converted a fourth-and-6 on a completion to freshman wide receiver Jaden Greathouse, the star of last year’s Blue-Gold Game.

On the next play, Angeli would toss a short pass to freshman tight end Jack Larsen for another first down before hurrying to the line and handing it off to Love, who waltzed into the end zone and regained a touchdown advantage for the Blue team. Love, who was one of four running backs to touch the ball at least seven times in the game, should play a prominent role in what is shaping up to be a stacked running back committee this season.

The Gold team quickly responded at the start of the fourth quarter. After switching teams, Carr strung together several masterful throws, including a 29-yard completion to Gilbert for his second touchdown of the day. Gilbert, who starred for the Gold team’s offense all game, secured five catches for 79 yards to go with his pair of touchdown catches. The freshman was also trusted with a team-high nine targets and more than met the responsibility. When asked about Gilbert’s growth, head coach Marcus Freeman lauded his playmaking ability and incredible work ethic.

“From summer camp, he’s been a guy that has made plays,” Freeman said. “Micah Gilbert is a really good football player. He’s added a great skillset to that room at a young age. He’s a hard worker, doesn’t talk a lot [and] just goes out to work.” 

Continuing this back-and-forth run, the Blue team scored what would prove to be the decisive touchdown on the ensuing drive. This time, it didn’t take very long. Angeli locked eyes with graduate wide receiver and FIU transfer Kris Mitchell running a double move down the sideline and uncorked a deep ball. Mitchell hauled it in and made a man miss on his way to the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown.

Following a crucial pass breakup by freshman cornerback Micah Bell and a fourth-down catch by Greathouse, Mitchell's touchdown sealed the victory as the game-winner. When asked about the transition from Florida International to Notre Dame and getting acclimated in the spring, Mitchell spoke about his personal improvement in the new environment.

“I know I can play on any stage I set my mind to,” Mitchell said. “Coming here to Notre Dame and being around guys like myself with the same work ethic as me and the same talent as me, having them push me to be even better and create more opportunities for myself to excel my game and going against them every day in practice has made me so much better.”

Mitchell’s speed adds an important layer to an Irish passing offense under Mike Denbrock that will look to stretch the field. Freeman discussed the addition of someone with his skillset and the value it brings.

“It’s big. That’s why we got him from the portal,” Freeman said. “We knew he could help this team and we’ve seen it on film … That’s why he’s here, to really boost this wide receiver room.” 

While the units showcased in the Blue-Gold Game may not accurately reflect the team’s look heading into the 2024 season, they give valuable insight into the development of key players on both sides of the ball. The game brought together Notre Dame fans and returned Notre Dame alumni to offer a sneak peek of what is to come. Freeman and the Irish will hope for that to be a successful step closer to the program’s ultimate goal of winning a national championship.