Swezey: Johnson gives Navy lift

ANNAPOLIS- Navy outside linebacker Corey Johnson may have thought his basketball days were over. Yet in the final frantic minutes of a 27-21 loss to Notre Dame before 70,932 at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, Johnson treated two onside kicks as if they were rebounds in a Patriot League tournament game: He went up and got them.

Both kicks were perfectly executed by senior Matt Harmon and nearly led the Midshipmen (6-4) back from a 27-7 deficit. The first came following a touchdown that closed Navy's deficit to 27-14 with 1 minute 39 seconds left. The second came with the score 27-21, with 1:21 left.

"After I got the second one," Johnson said, "I believed with all my heart that we were going to win this game. Nothing was going to stop us."

Navy's final drive began at the Notre Dame 41 yard-line and stalled at the Notre Dame 34. Twice in that drive, however, sophomore quarterback Ricky Dobbs put passes right on the hands of his receivers. The first was a throw to senior slotback Shun White on second down. White was at the 13-yard line but the ball went in and out of his hands.

The second time, senior Tyree Barnes and Notre Dame freshman Robert Blanton each got their hands on a pass near the end zone. They wrestled for the ball for a second and it fell incomplete.

The game effectively ended, however, when Dobbs overthrew sophomore Cory Finnerty on 4th-and-12.

Overall, it was a surprising finish to what had, to that point, appeared to be a fairly nondescript victory for the Fighting Irish (6-4). Notre Dame's plan was to wear down Navy's defense with a direct and simple running game. It's the same plan Pitt used in a 42-21 victory on Oct. 18.

Notre Dame finished with 51 rushes for 230 yards. It involved three running backs -- junior James Aldridge (80 yards on 16 carries) and sophomores Robert Hughes (13 carries, 64 yards, 1 touchdown) and Armando Allen (8 carries, 60 yards, 1 touchdown).

In fact, the game turned when Notre Dame's fourth-string running back -- freshman Jonas Gray -- lost a fumble at the Navy 5 yard line with 5:19 to play. Notre Dame led 27-7

It was then that Navy's offense began to click once again. The Mids closed to 27-14 after White took an option pitch from Ricky Dobbs, who was inserted at the end of the third quarter, and went 24 yards for a touchdown with 1:39 to play.

The first successful onside kick followed. And Navy was within 27-21 three plays later. The key play was a 40-yard pass from Dobbs to Barnes that put the ball at the 1 yard line. Dobbs then scored on a keeper with 1:21 left.

"I was just trying to execute the plays the coaches were giving me," Dobbs said.

In all, there were few highlights for Navy's offense. Finnerty outran the angle on Blanton on a 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that tied the game at 7. But until the final few minutes, Notre Dame held Navy's offense in check. The Midshipmen finished with 242 yards, including 178 rushing.

But as Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the game, the offense had too many three-and-outs to be effective -- and those, in turn, wore down Navy's defense.

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