NOTRE DAME, IN (UHND.com) – They say all good things must come to an end and that was never evident than it was Saturday night when Notre Dame’s 43 game winning streak over the Midshipmen of Navy came to a grinding halt at the end of triple overtime thriller. Navy ended four decades of Irish domination when they swarmed on Travis Thomas on a two point conversion attempt sealing a 46-44 victory for the Mids.
Thomas, whose fifth year has not gone as he had planned, carried the ball four times in the game with three of them ending in the end zone for touchdowns. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, he couldn’t make it four for four when Navy blew up the counter Charlie Weis called when the Irish were forced to go for a two point conversion to tie the game.
As Navy converged on Thomas’s ill fated attempt, they exorcised the demons of 43 past Navy squads who tried and failed to take out the Irish.
This game should have never come down to a failed two point conversion attempt. Notre Dame had plenty of opportunities to take control of the game, but a variety of errors on the field and from the sidelines resulted in a tie game after sixty minutes and sealed the fate of the Irish before any coin toss determined who would have the ball or who would defend what goal.
A litany of Irish miscues included scoring no points after getting a gift turnover on Navy’s first possession, a failed fake field goal attempt, a 15 yard face mask on a 3rd and long play stuff well short of a first down on a drive that ended in a touchdown, a dropped touchdown, a missed 40 yard field goal, fumble return for a touchdown by Navy, and Charlie Weis’s head scratching decision to go for a fourth and 7 instead of attempt a potential game winning 41 yard field goal with under a minute remaining in regulation with the score tied at 28.
On Sunday Weis defended the decision by stating, ““It was going against the wind and in practice, he couldn’t make it from there.” He would add, ”That’s why we didn’t kick it from there. That was a pretty simple one. We had a position on the field that we had to get to going into the wind. And we hadn’t gotten there yet.”
The position on the field was apparently four more yards according to Weis’s explanation, but that answer will not satisfy the legions of Notre Dame fans around the country who let out a collective “what the hell” when Evan Sharpley was seen trotting back onto the field to attempt the 4th and seven.
On the attempt, Navy recorded one of their four sacks in the game. Mind you, the Midshipmen had previously recorded just 5 sacks all season at a rate one for every 47.5 pass attempts. Notre Dame attempted 27 attempts giving Navy an average of 1 sack every 6.75 pass attempts – roughly 7x their season rate prior to Saturday’s contest.
Coaching errors were not all that doomed the Irish on Saturday though. After finally getting a stop on defense when Navy missed a 47 yard field goal attempt with 10:37 remaining in the 4th quarter, Evan Sharpley dropped back to pass on 2nd and 10 and had two Navy defenders in his face. Instead of tucking the ball in and taking the sack, Sharpley tried to fight off the defenders and fumbled the ball away. Navy’s Chris Kuhar-Pitters scooped up the loose ball to give Navy a five point lead which the Midshipmen extended to seven with a successful two point conversions.
Sharpley’s questionable ball security skills aside, the real question is why were the Irish throwing the football while clinging to a one point lead when they were able to run on Navy all game long? The Irish racked up a season high 235 rushing yards, but there they were throwing the ball on first and second down on the drive.
While Notre Dame was busy finding new ways to lose a game this weekend, Navy was busy finding a way to march into Notre Dame Stadium and beat a bigger, stronger, and faster Irish squad because they played disciplined, smart, and almost mistake free football for four quarters and then especially in the three overtime periods where Paul Johnson had the Irish completely off-balance.
Once the game reached overtime, it was Navy’s to lose. Navy’s offense is built perfectly for an overtime period because it chews up yards and is hardly ever stopped on a three and out. Johnson also showed off some outstanding play calling that hopefully Weis took some notes on, because it was the kind of play calling that caught Notre Dame completely off guard.
In the third overtime period, Navy’s first play was a fake option down field pass which was executed to perfection. Every Irish defender bit on the fake and Navy quarterback Kaip Kaheaku-Enhada found Reggie Campbell wide open for the touchdown. Notre Dame sold out on the run and Johnson’s perfectly timed play call couldn’t have worked any better.
“They fired the corner. And if you’re going to do that you can’t fire the corner and cover the wheel. So, you know, and Kaipo did a nice job finding him and Reggie did a great job catching the ball,” Johnson said after the game.
Contrast this with Notre Dame’s two point conversion attempts. After the first attempt ended in a Navy pass interference penalty, the Irish were given new life. With the ball at the one and half yard line Navy decided to sell out on the run. Johnson said he told his guys, “The ball’s on the 1 1/2 yard line. If they throw it, they throw it. We know they are going to run it full out. Come on, all of you, corners, safeties, everybody come get them. You know, we crashed and made the guy bounce and we had some guys coming over, and they kept him out.”
Johnson turned out to be dead on. The Irish ran a counter with Thomas and Navy swallowed him up.
The loss for Notre Dame not only ends their NCAA record of 43 straight wins over an opponent, but also gives them a record five straight home losses with just two more chances to end it this season.