With possessions at a premium, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made what proved to be a costly error on his team’s last.
Trailing 28-24 with 7:30 remaining, Kelly eschewed a 4th-and-4 conversion attempt at the Navy 14-yard line and instead sent kicker Justin Yoon for a 31-yard field goal. Yoon nailed the kick to trim the lead to 28-27 – effectively ending the contest.
Navy, which possessed the football for 20 minutes and 20 seconds of the 30-minute second stanza, bled the clock to its final gun following Yoon’s field goal, making good on a combined four third- and fourth-down conversions along the way.
“Certainly thought about going for it,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of the decision to kick. “In hindsight, we didn’t get the ball back. 28-27 made sense at the time to me. Even if (Navy) scored a touchdown we’d still have the opportunity to score and get the (hypothetical) two-point conversion.
“Those are the decisions you have to make,” he added. “I don’t question the decision to go for the field goal other than the fact that we didn’t get the ball back.”
Midshipman quarterback Will Worth rushed for a game-high 175 yards including a career-best 60-yard keeper to set up a second quarter touchdown, but no rush was bigger than a one-yard plunge at the 4:29 mark of the fourth quarter with his offense clinging to a 28-27 lead.
“It was a quarterback driven run game,” said Kelly. “They wanted to put pressure on the young guys on the perimeter.
“We overran the big play run,” he added of Worth’s 60-yarder.
Navy made good on 12 of its 13 combined third- and fourth-down conversion opportunities over the course of the contest, stopped only on a 4th-and-4 by Irish linebacker Greer Martini at the 13:20 mark of the second quarter.
Notre Dame’s offense was outstanding in that regard as well, converting a combined 10 of 13 such opportunities – the last of those three misses and the subsequent decision not to go for it on fourth down providing the difference.
The Irish offense was afforded just six possessions, scoring three touchdowns, adding two field goals, and punting once. Navy technically possessed the football seven times though one began deep in its own territory with 30 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Midshipmen finished their six meaningful possessions with four touchdowns, one punt, and once kneeling in victory.
“If we get the ball back with 1:14, I’m pretty confident that we’re going to find a way to score (a field goal),” said Kelly of his frustrating final 7:30. “They made some big plays to keep the ball.”
Navy gained 370 yards to the visitors 368 with the Midshipmen piling up 320 rushing yards to Notre Dame’s 147. The Irish ran it 28 times, passing it 28 as well including a sack of DeShone Kizer.
Kizer threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns with his top target Torii Hunter, Jr. compiling 104 yards on eight catches including the contest’s first score.
Notre Dame’s defense recorded 17 Stuffs on 56 Navy rushes including 12 in the second stanza but could not come up with a fourth-down Stuff in four of its five crucial opportunities.
“Navy was just a little bit better today,” said Kelly. “By one point.”