Thursday, May 19

The return of McKenzie Milton everything the state of Florida needed in almost the surprise of Notre Dame

There won’t be a better feel-good story for the remainder of the 2021 college football season.

No. 9 Notre Dame beat Florida State 41-38 in an overtime thriller Sunday in a game that will not be remembered for scoring. He will be remembered for the return of McKenzie Milton, who nearly led the Seminoles to a comeback victory on a night FSU honored the late legendary coach Bobby Bowden at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Milton saw his first action since sustaining a horrific leg injury on November 23, 2018. He required reconstructive knee surgery and a second surgery after an infection and was later transferred from UCF.

MORE: Milton’s Recovery Timeline

The long-awaited comeback almost unfolded like a movie.

Notre Dame took a 38-20 lead with 4:32 remaining in the third quarter on a night that had belonged to Irish quarterback Jack Coan, a transfer from Wisconsin that ended with 366 passing yards and four touchdowns. This game seemed like a run-of-the-mill blowout, but it became arguably the best game in the ND-FSU series since No. 1 vs. “Game of the Century”. No. 2 in 1993.

MORE: Live Updates, Highlights from ND’s OT Win

That is not hyperbole.

The script almost changed when Milton entered the game to a standing ovation with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter. He threw a perfect pass to Ja’Khi Douglas for a 22-yard gain on his first pass. That prompted a TD march to cut the margin to 38-35.

Milton kept the next drive alive with a shovel pass at third and 2 to Darion Williamson, and Ryan Fitzgerald forced overtime with a 43-yard field goal. Bowden would have loved that.

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This was going to be the Florida state version of “Rudy”, right?

MORE: RGIII among those who reacted on Twitter to Milton’s return

However, not all real life scripts are perfect. Milton’s only pitch in overtime was a desperate shove after a low third-down snap. Fitzgerald then missed a 37-yard field goal attempt. Notre Dame avoided disaster when Jonathan Doerer nailed a 41-yard field goal for the victory. Bowden would have felt that too.

The Irish won, even if the second half raised questions about defense and the running game, which averaged just 1.9 yards per attempt. There were questions about Coan’s coming into the season, and it was the brightest spot for Notre Dame in the opener. Another college football playoff spot is still possible with Brian Kelly.

MORE: Norvell Freezes Own Kicker In OT

That won’t be the lasting memory of Sunday night. It will be Milton dodging tacklers, creating plays and nearly leading Florida State into a surprise on a weekend when the three top-15 ACC teams lost. It will be the image of Milton’s mother, Teresa, crying alongside her husband, Mark, as their son continues his college football career.

Milton completed 5 of 7 passes for 48 yards and should push for more playing time the rest of the season. His return is the boost second-year coach Mike Norvell needed for this show, and he has to leave the Seminoles in a better position for the remainder of the 2021 season.

The best part is, this is not over for Milton. Other poignant stories will emerge in 2021, but none that feel so good.

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