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No. 5 Notre Dame finds another way to win ugly

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No. 5 Notre Dame finds another way to win ugly

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame's victory over Brigham Young lacked the drama of the goal-line stand against Stanford, the defensive domination the Fighting Irish showed against Michigan and the excitement of their last-minute win over Purdue.

Yet just like in those three other games, the Irish found a way to win a close game, beating BYU 17-14 to move to 7-0 for the 25th time in school history and the first time since Tyrone Willingham's first year as coach in 2002. That squad won five games by a touchdown or less en route to a 10-3 season.

Notre Dame is 4-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season and has won seven straight such regular-season games dating back to last season, after going 2-5 in such games after Brian Kelly became coach in 2010. Those included losses to Tulsa and South Florida and a pair of last-minute losses to Michigan.

Notre Dame is finding ways to win ugly rather than lose ugly.

``I think it's just a toughness,'' said quarterback Tommy Rees, who has played a role in all but two of those games. ``We've figured out how to play. We can close them out in the end.''

The Irish were without starting quarterback Everett Golson against BYU. He was held out as a precaution after sustaining a concussion a week earlier against Stanford. Kelly said Sunday he expects Golson to be ready to play against No. 8 Oklahoma (5-1), but wants to see how he reacts to a full exertion workout Monday.

For a while Saturday it looked like Notre Dame's perfect season was in jeopardy. Trailing 14-7, the Irish turned to their running game and a tough defense to pull out the victory. Theo Riddick rushed for 143 yards and Cierre Wood ran for 114, as each ran for more yards than any other opponent had against the Cougars.

``I think controlling the football for us and playing great defense in the second half has been our formula for winning and we are not going to go away from that,'' Kelly said.

A 2-yard touchdown run by George Atikinson III with 12:52 gave the Irish the lead and allowed them to keep alive their hopes of ending a national championship drought that dates back to 1988. The victory marked just the third time the Irish have won under Kelly after trailing at halftime. The other two times were a week earlier, when they beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime after trailing 10-3 at halftime, and a 24-17 win against Wake Forest last season after falling behind 17-10.

``It goes to the toughness of our football team,'' Kelly said. ``They believe they are going to win. ``

Irish players say the difference is they believe in each other.

``Football is very unpredictable. You have your ups and your downs and the most important thing is staying together when we hit adversity and that's exactly what we did,'' linebacker Manti Te'o said.

After giving up a total of three touchdowns in six games - none in the previous four - the Irish defense gave up a pair of touchdowns in just 2:18 to let BYU get the lead. But there was never a sense of panic, even as the Irish continually made mistakes that kept them from regaining the lead.

``That's the difference between this year's team and last year's team,'' tight end Tyler Eifert said. ``We're only down a touchdown or a field goal and you've just got to grind it out. Find a way to make it happen.''

Now the Irish have to find a way to make it happen at Oklahoma, which has only lost four homes games in 14 seasons under coach Bob Stoops. Kelly's Cincinnati team lost 52-26 in 2008 to the then-No. 4 Sooners. Kelly said it's a tough place to play.

``The fans are right on top of you. They're very knowledgeable. It's just a good college environment and they're a really good football team,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said what he took away from that 2008 game was that there was still a gap between where the Bearcats and the Sooners. The Irish are hoping to show against Oklahoma they are true title contenders. Kelly said the Irish know they need to continue to improve, saying that's a good thing.

``If you're 7-0 and five in the country and you think you've arrived, then that's where as a coach and a team you're in peril,'' he said.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

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