The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won a tense 35-32 contest over a competitive Navy Midshipmen squad on Saturday to improve their season record to 7-3. The victory was seemingly cemented away with a rousing first-half finish before offensive woes after the break helped create some unexpected drama.
Navy actually outgained Notre Dame in total yardage for the game, the byproduct of a second half in which they dominated when it came to offense. The Midshipmen got within a field goal after picking up their second touchdown pass of the final period with 1:21 to play. However, an onside kick attempt was quickly pounced by the Irish to avoid a possible overtime scenario.
Below are some of the key aspects of the Irish win:
Fireworks to End the Half
Midway through the second quarter, Navy scored their second touchdown of the game to slice their deficit to 21-13. That most likely made for some uneasiness among the Notre Dame faithful and was modestly heightened when an Irish field goal attempt on their subsequent drive missed. However, by halftime, Notre Dame had regained control.
The surge began when the Midshipmen began the next series with an attempted option pass that was picked off by Clarence Lewis. Three plays later Drew Pyne scored on a run to make it 28-13. Navy’s next drive was a three-and-out and was followed by the seventh Irish blocked punt this season. On the first play of that drive, Pyne connected with Jayden Thomas to boost the advantage to 35-13.
Giving Up the Big Play
Going into this contest, Notre Dame knew that they needed to keep the Navy triple-option attack in check. That plan experienced some glitches along the way and made the win a bit bumpier. The Midshipmen’s first score of the contest came on a 36-yard scoring dash in which fullback Daba Fofana ran untouched into the end zone. A rare 34-yard pass completion by Navy had helped set up that opportunity.
The Midshipmen’s next score was keyed by two consecutive plays that shifted the line of scrimmage from the Navy 15 to the Notre Dame 9. Fofana again found holes in the Irish defense to scamper for 50 yards and was immediately followed by quarterback Xavier Arline dashing for 26 yards.
Second Half Slumber
Once Notre Dame returned to the field following intermission, their offense went into hibernation. That resulted in them having the ball for less than 12 minutes as they did next to nothing during their six drives. The deepest incursion by the Irish only reached the Navy 34 and that was quickly wiped out by two of the five sacks for Navy on the afternoon.
Four of the Notre Dame drives ended with a punt and one came when the Irish had clinched the contest. The most costly drive after the break came on an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter. That led to the Midshipmen whittling their deficit down to 11 on the next play. That was a much better use of time than their 10-minute drive in the third quarter that only netted Navy a field goal.
Broadening the Receiving Scope
During much of his time as starting quarterback, Pyne has relied heavily on the very capable hands of Michael Mayer. He did so again three times against Navy for 23 yards. However, Pyne found time to spread the wealth among his 14 other completions, with six other players getting at least one reception.
Audric Estime, who’s more visible as a runner, made the most of his lone reception with a 30-yard touchdown grab to start the scoring. For 10 of the other catches, Pyne relied on the trio of Braden Lenzy with five for 67 yards, Thomas with three for 80 yards and Deon Colzie with two for 50 yards. Lenzy’s first-quarter touchdown reception was a sight to see and could go down as the catch of the year.
Pass Protection Woes
After solid play up front for the past five games, the Notre Dame offensive line had major issues trying to hold off Navy’s blitzes during the second half. The end result was five sacks for the Midshipmen, which included three during a single series and more nervous moments for Irish fans.
That trio of sacks came at a time when the Irish were trying to put away a Navy squad that had turned a comfortable 22-point halftime lead into a two-possession game. Entering the clash, the Midshipmen had only averaged two sacks per contest, a number that they managed to more than double in the span of just two quarters.
Notre Dame returns home next week for a Senior Day matchup against the struggling Boston College Eagles. Boston College enters a late afternoon matchup against North Carolina State with a 2-7 record. The Eagles have dropped their last eight meetings against the Irish and haven’t won at Notre Dame since 2008. During their last trip to the Golden Dome in 2019, the Eagles were on the wrong end of a 40-7 rout.