Irish Keep Bowl Hopes Alive

The Notre Dame football team won a hard-fought battle against Navy on Saturday, 27-24. The Midshipmen played the game like many thought they would—they never quit—and neither did the Irish. The Irish rode the sheer determination of senior running back Julius Jones who rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns. The Irish wouldn't be denied and the streak now stands at 40.

The story of the game was the running of Julius Jones. Jones set the tone on the first series rushing for 13, 7, and 20 yards before the Irish shot themselves in the foot as Brady Quinn slipped and fell on a bootleg pass, stopping the Irish drive with a failed 50-yard field goal attempt.

Jones left little doubt in the second series taking his first carry 11 yards and his second carry 48 yards for the first Irish touchdown and giving the Irish the 7-0 lead.

Navy needed just one play to score as Midshipmen slot back Tony Lane took a pitch around the left side for 65 yards and a touchdown, tying the game at 7-7.

Navy took advantage of good field position in the second quarter when a poor punt by D.J. Fitzpatrick set the Midshipmen up at the Notre Dame 41 yard line. The Midshipmen advanced the ball to the Notre Dame 17 yard line before Craig Candeto was stuffed by linebacker Corey Mays for a 1-yard loss on third down. Eric Rolfs gave the Midshipmen the 10-7 lead converting a 35-yard field goal attempt.

The Irish fought back at the end of the first half behind the arm and legs of quarterback Brady Quinn. Quinn rushed twice giving the Irish two first downs and completed four passes including the 2 yard touchdown to Rhema McKnight giving the Irish the 14-10 halftime lead.

The battle continued in the second half as the Midshipmen took their second possession and marched 40 yards for a touchdown on a 5-yard run by Kyle Eckel giving the Midshipmen the 17-14 lead.

The Irish responded to the Navy score and called on Jones again as he took runs 6, 14, 3, and 12 yards with his last attempt finding the end zone giving the Irish the 21-17 lead.

Navy held serve and looked to Eckel again as the Midshipmen capped off another short-field drive with Eckel finding the end zone giving Navy the 24-21 lead.

The Irish, now down in the fourth quarter, looked to their warrior again and he responded as Jones rushed for 16, 13, 11, 4, and 5 yards setting up a D.J. Fitzpatrick 30-yard field goal tying the game 24-24.

The Irish defense made the stop they needed late in the fourth quarter as safety Garron Bible threw slot back Eric Roberts for a 1-yard loss on third down forcing the Navy punt. The stop gave the Irish offense the opportunity to win the game, and they responded again.

Notre Dame took the ball at their own 15 yard line with a 1:54 left in the game. The Irish put the ball in the hands of their hero and he responded with runs of 9 and 11 yards and receptions of 2 and 7 yards giving the Irish two first downs. Brady Quinn then hit McKnight with an 18-yard screen pass setting up the game-winning 40 yard D.J. Fitzpatrick field goal sealing the 27-24 Irish win.

Coach Tyrone Willingham said he had confidence in Fitzpatrick to make the kick. "It was pretty simple, just wind it on down and let him have his shot at it. We felt good that he could make the kick," Willingham said.

Willingham said he did talk to Fitzpatrick before he made the kick. "I said something to him, but only to alert him that he would be frozen again, just to let him know not to get anxious, he had to be very patient with what was going to happen."

The Irish rushed 280 yards on the day and Willingham said when they can run the football, the Irish are at their best. He also praised the effort by Julius Jones on Saturday and for the season.

"It appears when we are at our best is when we are having success running the football. The guy that's been spearheading that for us this year has been Julius. To have 100 yards in both halves is what this football team needed."

The Irish offense responded every time Navy took the lead in the game, scoring shortly after the Navy score. Willingham said he was very happy to see his team respond the way they did.

"You have to be a football team--if you're going to be a winner--that responds to what another team does to you. Our team came back after scores and responded and issued a statement that we're here to stay. We're not going to go away, not going to fade and that was very encouraging to see that."

The defense did an excellent job of slowing down the Navy option attack. Defensive coordinator, Kent Baer was pleased with the effort of his team. "Other than that long play, I'm disappointed in that, we were in the right defense, we missed the tackle. If you take that away, we pretty much got the goal that we set for the game, and I thought they did a good job," said Baer about his defense. "Overall, I was pretty pleased."

Baer said that playing this offense with only one week to prepare is harder than most people think. "You've got to be disciplined and you've got to stay focused. They can lull you asleep at times. The key to that is reacting to your keys and understanding your responsibility, and I thought for the most part, we did good."

Irish Eyes thought the key to the game was the play of the Irish safeties. Neither safety had had much experience playing the option and Baer was pleased with their effort.

"The safeties did a tremendous job and also Justin Tuck. Justin Tuck made a ton of plays; he had a lot of tackles. The safeties did a good job. That's not easy for those guys. For the most part; I thought they did a pretty good job."

The Irish offense responded and showed their determination by scoring after Navy scoring drives. Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said the offense knew they would have to score to stay in this game.

"The thing that we preached all week long is that they're going to go down and put points on the board and we have to respond," said Diedrick. "Probably the biggest disappointment in the whole game was the two or three times we ended up giving them the short field by not bringing it out from our own end. I was very proud of the guys, I thought they stepped up and made plays when they had to."

"That's what we tried to accomplish from the very beginning," Diedrick continued. "Try to take them off the field and help our defense out."

Jones ended up with 33 carries on the day, the most carries on the season for Jones. "He deserved it, and like we've said all along, when a guy's got the hot hand, like Julius had today, we're going to feed off him and give him the football. That will continue to happen."

Quarterback Brady Quinn had an efficient day at quarterback. He completed 14-of-27 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Quinn didn't throw an interception on the day and continues to improve according to Diedrick.

"I was pleased with his overall play. I thought his decision-making was good. I thought he got a little anxious on a couple of throws; all in all, he's making the progress that I'm pleased with. I thought he did a good job on the last drive and did what he had to do."

"It's nice to get a win again and get that feeling again," said Diedrick. "Right now, at least for the coaches, BYU is in our mind."

The Irish are now 3-6 on the year and their bowl hopes are still alive. This game was important to the Irish and to Willingham and his staff. They now have something to play for with BYU visiting South Bend on Saturday.

The Irish played like champions and with the passion we all love to see on Saturday. This might not be a good football team, but the Irish coaches and players haven't quit on their season, and that is refreshing to see. Top Stories