The Irish's Travis Thomas was stuffed on the two-point conversion and the Midshipmen players stormed the field to celebrate a historic 46-44 victory over Notre Dame. Why was it historic? It was Navy's first win over the Irish since 1963, a streak of 43 losses in a row. The streak was the longest over one opponent in NCAA history. Now, the Midshipmen can start one of their own.
The loss sends struggling Notre Dame to 1-8 on the year. The Irish haven't won at home since the final contest last season against Army, which is a stretch of five contests. It's been a year of lows for Notre Dame. Saturday's loss to an opponent that hasn't beaten the Irish in over four decades might be the low of the low. Head coach Charlie Weis doesn't look at this defeat as the end of a streak but as another loss in a season of many.
"The streak doesn't mean anything to me," Weis said. "We lost to Navy. That's who we lost to. Next year we will play Navy again.
"The only streak is in your eyes. It is really not in the players' eye. The streak they are worrying about is how many games they lost on the road and at home. That's what they are worrying about. How many games we played since UCLA when last we won. That's what they are worrying about. They are worrying about the here and now.
"These kids are 17. Do you think they're worrying about 43 years? They are worrying about right now. They would like to beat Air Force. I think that's the streak they would like to beat on."
The fireworks started late in the fourth quarter. Chris Kuhar-Pitters scooped up a fumble by Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley and rumbled into the end zone to give Navy a 26-21 advantage. A two-point conversion stretched the lead into a touchdown with just under 11 minutes remaining in the contest. The turnover by Sharpley was Notre Dame's lone of the game. However, the sack that caused the fumble was one of four on the day for the Midshipmen. Coming into the contest, Navy had five sacks all season long.
The Irish responded on the next drive. The critical play was a 4th-and-14 conversion to John Carlson for 16 yards deep inside Notre Dame's territory. After the first down, Armando Allen carried the ball six times in a row down to the Midshipmen three-yard line before Thomas bulled into the end zone for the tying touchdown. On the day, Allen finished with 91 yards on 16 carries.
Notre Dame actually had a chance to win it in regulation. After forcing the Midshipmen to punt, the Irish drove down to Navy's 24-yard line with under a minute to go in the contest. Notre Dame was facing 4th-and-7 and the logical move appeared to be a 41-yard field goal attempt for a three-point lead. However, Weis decided to go for it and Sharpley was subsequently sacked by Kuhar-Pitters to end the scoring chance. Why was there no 41-yard field goal for the win? Weis said pre-game warm-ups determined how far place kicker Brandon Walker could boot it on that side of the field going into the wind.
"It was going against the wind and in practice, he couldn't make it from there," Weis said of Walker, who, according to his head coach, was four yards away from his maximum distance on that side of the field. "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."
In the first overtime session, both teams traded touchdowns. Navy scored first, driving 25 yards in four plays, capped when fullback Eric Kettani plunged into the end zone to give the Midshipmen a 35-28 advantage. Kettani led Navy with 70 of the team's 257 yards on the ground, which is actually 86 yards underneath their season average. The Irish sent the game into a second overtime when Sharpley found freshman Duval Kamara from eight yards out. It was the wide receiver's second touchdown grab of the day and third of his young Notre Dame career. Sharpley was 17-of-27 for 140 yards on the afternoon.
In the second extra frame, Walker kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it 38-35, forcing the Midshipmen to match it. A trick play on 3rd down, a pass play by split back Reggie Campbell, almost was an interception. Navy's Joey Bullen snuck in a 32-yard field goal to keep the thrilling contest going into a third overtime.
The Midshipmen did not waste anytime in scoring. On 1st down, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada found Campbell on a wheel route for a 25-yard scoring strike to give Navy a 44-38 lead. It was only Kaheaku-Enhada's eighth pass attempt of the day but six ended in completions for 81 yards. Because of the rules in the third overtime period, if a team scores a touchdown, they must go for two. Kaheaku-Enhada hit Campbell again on the two-point try to give the Midshipmen a 46-38 advantage.
The Irish could not force a fourth overtime period on their next possession. Notre Dame converted on 4th-and-1 when Thomas went off right guard for a five-yard touchdown, the fifth-year senior's third of the day. It cut the deficit to 46-44. Those five yards were five of the 235 rushing yards on Saturday. James Aldridge led all Irish rushers with 125 yards on 32 attempts, both career-highs for the junior running back.
On the two-point try, Sharpley rolled right and tried to find Robby Parris but the ball was incomplete. Navy players stormed the field but a penalty for pass interference gave the Irish the ball at the one and a half yard line.
Johnson, sensing it would be a run, called for every defensive player to crash the line. The Midshipmen head coach's instincts were right on as Thomas rush attempt failed. It not only gave Navy (5-4) their long-awaited victory over Notre Dame but the commandant of the Naval Academy has already cancelled classes on Monday, further evidence of the magnitude of the win for the Midshipmen.
"Our senior class was 0-3 against Notre Dame," Johnson said. "I don't think you can give them credit for what happened in 1963 on. I know I don't want any credit for it. Each team is its own. This is my sixth time playing Notre Dame as head coach at Navy and three of them have gone down to about like this.
"Eventually, if they keep going like this, law of averages, you're going to get one and today was our day."