Army quarterback Trent Steelman (8) is tackled by Notre Dame's...

Army quarterback Trent Steelman (8) is tackled by Notre Dame's Harrison Smith (22) and Manti Te'o (5) in the 2nd quarter at Yankee Stadium. (Nov. 20, 2010) Credit: MCT

For one chilly night in the Bronx, the home of the Yankees belonged to the Irish.

One by one, the Notre Dame players touched the blue letters on the small yellow sign taped to the wall just beyond the underground batting cage.

"Play like a champion today," the famous adage read.

With their game-day ritual complete, the Irish sprinted up the dugout steps and onto the field, just to the right of the Yankees' signature interlocking "NY" painted near the spot of home plate. It certainly wasn't the "Game of the Century," but it was history nonetheless - the first football game at the new Stadium.

A sellout crowd of 54,251 - speckled by bits of green - came to witness the renewal of one of college football's oldest rivalries last night.

Clad in green and gold, the Irish pulled away in the second quarter en route to a 27-3 win over the Black Knights, earning their first bowl game appearance since the 2008 Hawaii Bowl.

Last night marked the 50th meeting for the two schools, with Notre Dame holding a 38-8-4 edge in the series. The teams met 22 times between 1925-46 at the old Yankee Stadium, where the Irish had a 14-5-3 advantage.

Army coach Rich Ellerson praised the atmosphere ("That was electric. Really something . . . a good night to pull a rabbit out of your hat") but not so happy with his team ("We didn't play well and we got clobbered.")

Army (6-5) ate up 8:50 during its opening - and only - drive of the first quarter, churning out 61 yards on 14 carries on the way to a 3-0 lead on Alex Carlton's 20-yard field goal. The Black Knights averaged 272.8 rushing yards coming into the game, but Notre Dame surprised Army with a four-man front, according to Ellerson, and limited the Cadets to 74 rushing yards the rest of the way.

Irish coach Brian Kelly beamed about his defense. "We haven't given up a TD in November," he said. "That doesn't happen by accident."

Notre Dame kicker David Ruffer hit the first of his two field goals, a 47-yarder 10 seconds into the second quarter.

The Irish (6-5) wasted no time scoring again, thanks to good field position by way of a 12-yard punt that sailed out of bounds at the Black Knights' 40.

On third-and-6 at the Army 36, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees (13-for-20, 214 yards, one TD and one interception) found a diving Tyler Eifert near the goal line for what appeared to be a 36-yard touchdown. But the play was reviewed, the ball was spotted at the 1-yard line and Robert Hughes took it in for a 10-3 lead.

Rees teamed with Eifert again on a 31-yard score in the left corner of the end zone to make it 17-3 at the half.

Notre Dame added to its lead one minute into the third quarter as cornerback Darrin Walls picked off quarterback Trent Steelman at the Army 42 and returned it for a touchdown. It was the Irish's first defensive touchdown since 2008.

Rees, a freshman filling in for the injured Dayne Crist, got to use Derek Jeter's locker at the Stadium. "I snapped a photo as soon as I could," Rees said. "It's pretty humbling."

Staying with the imagery, Rees said of the Irish's two-game winning streak, "Things seem to be clicking."

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