No. 8 Notre Dame get tough, holds off Navy
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly deterred fans of high-flying football from dissecting Saturday’s game against Navy at length.
“I don’t really have a lot to wow you with,” Kelly said. “If you like games that require a grittiness to them and a toughness and resolve, you know, this is it. If you want to go see 62-52, go to your local Big 12 Network. It was just good, tough football.”
The No. 8 Fighting Irish rallied for a 24-17 victory against the Midshipmen, struggling in spots but ultimately emerging to rebound from last week’s lopsided road loss to Miami that took Notre Dame out of the College Football Playoff chase.
Navy controlled the clock behind an effective triple-option attack, finishing with a 42:42 to 17:18 edge in time of possession. The Midshipmen attempted six fourth-down conversions, and were successful on four.
“They’re going to come in and execute their offense,” Fighting Irish senior linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “Obviously, it’s a challenge not facing that offense all the time, but ... we just came together as a family, executing and doing our jobs.”
Quarterback Brandon Wimbush and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson connected for two second-half touchdown passes to boost Notre Dame (9-2).
Navy (6-4) took a 17-10 lead on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Zach Abey to Craig Scott with 7:01 left in the third quarter, but the Midshipmen, battling the Fighting Irish through a steady, blowing rain, enjoyed the edge for a mere 1:28.
That’s how long it took for Wimbush to cap a five-play, 78-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown to Stepherson. The Fighting Irish took a 24-17 lead on a 9-yard scoring pass from Wimbush to Stepherson with 11:49 left in the fourth quarter.
Wimbush started 1-for-5 passing before finishing 9-for-18 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. He added a 2-yard scoring run in the closing seconds of the second quarter, tying the game at 10. Kelly said that touchdown was “critical” with the clock-consuming Midshipmen receiving the second-half kickoff.
“I think I just started seeing things a little bit more clearly, adjusted to the tempo that Navy was playing at and went from there,” Wimbush said.
The Midshipmen were driving later in the fourth quarter, but Troy Pride intercepted an Abey pass at the 7:18 mark, and Notre Dame took over at its 14-yard line. Navy got the ball back after an ensuing Notre Dame punt but was unable to convert a fourth-and-5 from the Fighting Irish 25, as slotback Darryl Bonner’s pass for Tyler Carmona fell incomplete.
“We knew that coming into the game, we had to play perfect against these guys,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
“It’s like that every year. It’s a lot of pressure on our kids, and we talked about that this week, being able to handle pressure. We came up a little short, but like I’ve said, I’m proud of them all.”
Navy also missed a 37-field goal attempt wide left in the final minute of the third quarter.
Garret Lewis made his first career start at quarterback for Navy, but Abey, who started the first eight games of the season before fighting a shoulder injury, still saw a majority of snaps. Niumatalolo shuffled the lineup at the outset as the Midshipmen were without last week’s starter, Malcolm Perry, who sustained an ankle injury last week after moving from running back to quarterback.
Notre Dame outgained Navy, 327-318, as the Midshipmen defense helped keep things close.
“I think we did pretty well,” Navy cornerback Tyris Wooten said. “In some parts, we did stupid stuff, just missed an assignment and stuff, but for the most part, I thought we did well.”
Stepherson had five receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns, and Josh Adams rushed 18 times for 106 yards.
Abey rushed 29 times for 95 yards and a touchdown, while passing for 41 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Anthony Gargiulo added 87 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards.
Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown left the game in the first quarter after getting flipped and falling on his neck after jumping for a pass. Kelly said St. Brown was being evaluated for a possible head injury.
Standout left tackle Mike McGlinchey headlined a group of Fighting Irish seniors who played their final home game at Notre Dame Stadium. Classmate Greer Martini had a career-high 15 tackles, and was among the seniors who lingered on the soggy field after the game.
“There’s a lot to play for for these guys,” Kelly said. “They’ve done an incredible job of leading us back to where we can be.”
NOTES: Navy S Sean Williams sat out the first half after his ejection for an illegal hit during a Nov. 11 home win against Southern Methodist. ... The Fighting Irish wore special Knute Rockne tribute uniforms, honoring the program legend who played for Notre Dame before coaching the Fighting Irish from 1918-1930. The uniforms used an older model “ND” logo, and each jersey featured “ROCKNE” on the back rather than individual player names.