In the first quarter with the Irish leading 7-0, Notre Dame's Maurice Crum forced Navy's Shun White to fumble. It was recovered by Tom Zbikowski and it gave the Irish a first down on the Midshipmen 30-yard line. Six plays later, Notre Dame, facing a 4th-and-15, lined up for a 37-yard field goal into the wind. Quarterback Evan Sharpley was the holder while Nate Whitaker came out to kick the field goal. But Sharpley took the snap and tried to run it for a first down. The junior signal caller came up 10 yards short as Navy took over on downs.
The Midshipmen promptly moved the ball 85 yards in 19 plays, capped when Zerb Singleton scored on a one-yard touchdown run to tie the contest up at 7-all. Instead of a possible two-score advantage, Navy had got right back into the game. Head coach Charlie Weis explained that the Midshipmen switched up their field goal rush tendency.
"From what we had studied all year long when you're on the left hash mark, they've rushed every time the entire year," Weis said on Sunday. "Unfortunately for us, we set up the fake based off of them doing what they've done on every snap from the left hash this year. And the key player on this play didn't rush on that play. So we guessed wrong.
"If they had given us the exact same look for every single game they played through eight games of field goals on the left hash, and we got the situation we wanted. One of the critical guys on this who you're counting on rushing up field didn't rush on the play."
The second instance came with the contest winding down in regulation. After Notre Dame had forced Navy to punt for the first time all afternoon long, Zbikowski returned the kick 32 yards to the Midshipmen 38-yard line with 2:11 remaining the game and the score tied at 28-all. Six plays later, the Irish faced a 4th-and-8 from the Navy 24-yard line with under a minute to go. Most assumed a potential game-winning field goal would be attempted by freshman Brandon Walker, who had already missed one field goal on the day.
But Weis chose to go for it. Sharpley dropped back but was sacked by Chris Kuhar-Peters and Ram Vela to end the scoring chance. The field goal was on the same side of the field as the first quarter decision against the wind. But Walker's maximum range, based on pre-game kicks, was 37 yards. The four-yard difference was the deciding factor in Weis' reasoning, as was a run play to Armando Allen on 3rd down that went for no gain.
"We're trying to get to the 20-yard line," Weis said. "We felt that the best kick was from the right to right middle. So that's why on the play before that I ran stretch to the right, figuring we're on the 24-yard line. If I can get to 4 yards on the play, I won't get the first down, but he really wanted it right-right middle.
"So running the stretch play to the right was designed if I didn't get the first down, to go ahead and get us four yards and get us to the 20 on the right-right middle to come out and kick the field goal. But we had no gain or lost yardage on the play."
***Nose tackle Pat Kuntz was injured in the first half and did not return to action. The junior was back on the sidelines in the second half and in the overtime sessions but was wearing street clothes. In his place, freshman Ian Williams saw extensive action and recorded a career-high 11 tackles.
Weis said Kuntz, who is sixth on the team in tackles with 38 and first in pass breakups with nine, got a knee in the back and the X-ray taken in the locker room was inconclusive. The team will soon have a clearer picture of the injury and if Kuntz will miss any time.
"I don't know if they're taking an MRI or what they're doing today,‘ Weis said. "But I just know that they told me he was going to come out in street clothes in the second half, and I saw him out there in street clothes. That is about as far as I knew. And I was going to wait until (Sunday) to have a better idea what's going on with Pat."
***Sharpley started his second straight game under center for Notre Dame. The junior quarterback was 17-of-27 for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Both scoring connections went to freshman Duval Kamara. The first was right before halftime, a 21-yard touchdown to give the Irish a 21-14 advantage heading into halftime. The second was in the first overtime period on a eight-yard scoring strike to send the contest into the second extra session.
Sharpley did get sacked four times. Coming into the contest, Navy, dead last in sacks, had only five in eight games. The big no-no for the junior signal caller was a fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter after a sack. The ball was scooped up by Kuhar-Peters and ran in for a 16-yard touchdown. A made two-point conversion would give the Midshipmen a 28-21 lead at that time.
"I think it was okay," Weis said of Sharpley‘s overall performance. "There were some passes he'd like to have back. We had four drops in the game so, that didn't help matters. But there were some passes he'd like to have back.
"Probably the thing, the biggest play, we had a runaway rusher on the screen pass. They had the strip sack fumble. So I can't blame him for the runaway rusher. But I can blame him and tell the quarterback they're still responsible for taking care of the football. So I would not put that sack on his responsibility. But giving the ball up, I think that's something that's never acceptable."
Weis said after the game the plan was to play both Sharpley and freshman Jimmy Clausen but the ebb and flow of the game didn't allow that to take place. The Irish head coach thinks Clausen will be fully ready to go this week. So who will get the start for the Air Force game? Weis will need a little time to make a choice.
"I think that we would definitely wait," said about a quarterback decision and reps this week in practice. "Now that I've seen both, they both go together though. Having watched the game and seeing where Jimmy is, I think a combination of those two things puts it a lot more even than I would have thought yesterday at that time."