The 2006 Fiesta Bowl was the last at Sun Devil Stadium. But it was a similar scene as Ohio State won for the third time in four years with a big-play offense and a ball-hawking defense to defeat Notre Dame, 34-20, in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 76,196, the largest ever for a non-championship game. The game featured two of the most storied programs in college football, playing for just the fifth time in history, making it one of the most anticipated games in Fiesta Bowl history. Both teams won national championships in past Fiesta Bowls – Notre Dame in 1989 and Ohio State in 2003 – adding even more drama to a game that featured plenty of hype.
Notre Dame grabbed an early 7-0 lead on a 20-yard run by Darius Walker, who finished with three rushing scores. Ohio State exploded after that with three long touchdowns, the first a 56-yard pass from Troy Smith to a wide-open Ted Ginn Jr.
Ginn Jr. opened the second quarter with a zigzagging 68-yard end around and Smith hit Santonio Holmes on an 85-yard touchdown pass, the longest in Fiesta Bowl history to give the Buckeyes a 21-7 lead at halftime.
The Fighting Irish pulled within seven late in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard dive by Walker, but Smith converted two huge third-down conversions and Antonio Pittman galloped 60 yards to seal the victory with 1:46 to play.
Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk was named defensive player of the game, becoming the first player in Fiesta Bowl history to win that honor twice. Adding to the game’s hype, Hawk was dating Laura Quinn, sister of Notre Dame star quarterback Brady Quinn. Hawk sacked his girlfriend’s brother twice and ran him down on a key third-down play early in the fourth quarter.
Ginn Jr. finished with eight receptions for 167 yards and Holmes had five catches for 124 yards, making them only the third pair of teammates to eclipse 100 yards receiving in a Fiesta Bowl.
Smith earned offensive player of the game honors for completing 19 of 28 passes for a career-high 342 yards and 66 yards rushing on 13 attempts, making him a serious Heisman Trophy candidate going into next season.
The pre-game ceremonies highlighted the bowl’s founders and legendary Arizona State coach Frank Kush, who led the Sun Devils to victories in four of the first five Fiesta Bowls, during a special video tribute and field presentation.