RALEIGH, NC – Sam Hartman has a history at Carter-Finley Stadium for which he’d rather not be reminded. So his new Notre Dame teammates avoided the subject in the days leading up to Saturday’s visit to NC State.

It only took 3 plays for the transfer quarterback to have a flashback to his 2 previous trips to the home of the Wolfpack, both losses, when he played for ACC rival Wake Forest.

Hartman was sacked by State’s Davin Vann, causing him to fumble deep in his own territory.

Turnovers have plagued Hartman against the Wolfpack. He was intercepted 6 times as a Deacon.

But this time, as a member of the Irish, things were different. Left guard Pat Coogan was close enough to fall on the loose ball and prevent an early giveaway. Still, it took nearly a full quarter more for Hartman’s luck at Carter-Finley to finally change.

The line of demarcation, strangely enough, was a lengthy weather delay in which the teams were sequestered in their respective locker rooms.

One hour, 45 minutes and a couple of hot dogs after play was halted, Audric Estime rumbled 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play back.

And both Notre Dame and its new quarterback were off and running.

Hartman didn’t have to be spectacular Saturday. Just steady, which he was. He finished 15-of-24 for 286 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions in leading the Irish to a 45-24 win in by far the most challenging test of the new season.

“Early in the game, he got hit a couple of times. He put 1 ball on the ground that we recovered. But he’s a competitor,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said, praising Hartman for having the mindset to stay in the moment and “not be so focused on what happened in the past. … There was no panic. He’s a leader and experienced.”

Though it might not seem like it from the final score, Hartman and the Irish found themselves under duress for the first time this season after stress-free opening wins against Navy and Tennessee Tech.
Although they never trailed, NC State never let them get comfortable through the first 3 quarters.

Every time the Wolfpack scored to pull to within a single score, Hartman came right back with a quick answer.

The most pivotal exchange came right before halftime.

A 9-yard pass from fellow transfer Brennan Armstrong to Bradley Rozner with 1:16 remaining pulled the Wolfpack within 10-7 and finally gave the rain-soaked but vocal sellout crowd something to cheer about.

But almost before State’s fans were finished singing their fight song, Hartman had yanked the momentum back in Notre Dame’s favor.

Given plenty of time to throw as the Wolfpack dropped 8 into coverage, the ACC’s all-time leader in touchdown passes found Chris Tyree wide open down the near sideline for a 65-yard gain. One play later, he Jaden Greathouse for a 13-yard score.

“They came out and executed those drives after we did,” State coach Dave Doeren said. “They responded. You have to give Notre Dame credit for their response as a team.”

Especially its leader.

Hartman showed the poise and resiliency that complements his strong right arm again early during another pivotal exchange midway through the 2nd half.

This time, he lost a fumble deep in his own territory after being sacked by Brandon Cleveland. After his defense bailed him out twice – first by forcing a 3-and-out and a missed field goal, then by getting an interception from Xavier Watts – Hartman made amends for his miscue by throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Davis Sherwood.

It was the start of a 21-point 4th-quarter run that finally put the game on ice.

“He’s a great player, a great leader for this team,” Estime, who ran for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14 carries, said of Hartman. “He’s a person who likes to share success with everyone and let everyone eat. That’s huge in a quarterback. He’s just leading us in the right direction.”

Might that direction be in the vicinity of the College Football Playoff?

It’s still too early to make that leap. There are much tougher tests against Ohio State, Southern Cal and Clemson to come. But as Freeman suggested in his postgame remarks, Notre Dame’s ceiling is high.

For now, though, the Irish can be satisfied with taking a significant positive step forward. And their transfer quarterback can be happy that he was able to exorcize a personal ghost and finally escape the Wolves den with a win.

“He’s 1-0 in this stadium in a gold helmet,” teammate Estime said. “So that’s cured.”