Navy ends losing streak

Published 10:26 am Monday, November 5, 2007

By By ADAM PAYNE / Niles Daily Star
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – About the eight minute mark of the first quarter. First and 10, 10:37 to go in the fourth. Fourth and eight, 1:30 remaining. All points at which indefensibly bad decisions by the Notre Dame coaching staff helped cost the Irish the game versus traditionally farcical rival Navy on Saturday.
The results was a 46-44 Navy win in triple overtime.
In the first quarter, the Irish put the Midshipmen on the ropes immediately, taking a 7-0 lead and forcing a fumble on the ensuing Navy drive. Starting at the Navy 30-yard line, the Irish were in a position to give themselves a commanding 2-score lead against a team with no passing game and a famously bad defense.
They then moved 15-yards on three carries, setting up first and 10 at the 15.
Three failed passing plays later, with about eight minutes to go in the first quarter, the Irish faced fourth and 15 from the Navy 20.
Traditional wisdom dictates a field goal attempt. Notre Dame insisted on being unconventional, however, and Evan Sharpley was given the task of attempting the fake. He fell 10-yards short of the necessary 15, thereby taking Navy off the hook entirely for their turnover.
Several dominating Navy drives of 8-plus minutes later, the Irish were still in a position to help themselves early in the fourth. Following a missed Navy field goal attempt of 47-yards the Irish held a 1-point lead, the product of a missed Navy extra point. Leading 21-20 with 10:37 to go in the game, the Irish defied conventional reason again.
Instead of running the ball, the Irish threw an incomplete pass on first down. Not only did Notre Dame attempt to throw once more, the mistake was compounded by a sack, fumble and return for a touchdown by Navy defensive end Chris Kuhar-Pitters. One effortless two-point conversion later and Navy led 28-21.
The subsequent Notre Dame possession contained the one obligatory instance of "the luck of the Irish." Following a sack and a penalty, Notre Dame faced a third and 27 from their own 19-yard line. Sharpley was forced to run, and gained a healthy 13-yards back. Fearing not seeing the ball again, the Irish went for it on fourth and 14 deep within their own territory. Sharpley floated a pass complete to Carlson for 16 yards in what seemed to be the critical big-play of the game.
After pulling off this one compulsory miracle and eventually tying the game at 28, Notre Dame was once again in a position to put the pressure on the Midshipmen. Tom Zbikowski returned the first punt of the game 32 yards, setting up a short field for the Irish. After a stunted 5-play, 14-yard drive, however, the Irish faced fourth and eight at the Navy 24 with a minute and a half to go in the game.
While Navy had repeatedly demonstrated that they were able to run at will against the Irish defense, they had given no indication that they could move any significant distance quickly. A three-point lead for the Irish with 90 seconds remaining would be imposing.
Notre Dame opted against the field goal attempt again, pushing their luck and going for it. Chris Kuhar-Pitters was once again the man of the moment, vaulting the offensive lineman and burying Sharpley for a 7-yard sack.
The rest is indeed history. Navy finished with 257 rushing yards on 66 attempts, well below their healthy nation-leading average of 342.9 yards. Notre Dame outgained the Midshipmen overall, accumulating 375 yards of offense on 90 plays.
The two teams were very closely matched Saturday, and both teams have talent. What Navy has that Notre Dame lacks is sound, reasonable, earnest leadership. There is no shame in losing to a better football team, which is exactly what happened to Notre Dame on Saturday.