Their Ship Comes In
Sunday, November 4, 2007
SOUTH BEND, Ind., Nov. 3 -- Flashbulbs popped in the dark night as the jubilant Navy football team congregated in front of its drum and bugle corps for the playing of the alma mater. On the sideline, Capt. Margaret D. Klein, the academy commandant, had decided to cancel classes on Monday.
Nearby, Notre Dame's players and coaches stood quietly and watched. It was a historic moment, and one that belonged solely to the Midshipmen. Their 46-44, triple-overtime win before 80,795 at Notre Dame Stadium ended a 43-year losing streak to the Fighting Irish. It was the longest such streak in NCAA history.
"It's important for the seniors because this group has had a lot to do with us getting the program turned around," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "They've done everything we asked them, and they play real hard. We might not be the biggest or the fastest, but they play with a lot of heart."
The Midshipmen (5-4) needed that heart all afternoon. Before boarding the buses that would take them from their hotel to the stadium late Saturday morning, Johnson said he had three keys to winning the game.
He then said, "Believe you can win," three times.
He reiterated the message at halftime. Navy needed to hear it then: Notre Dame (1-8) had taken a 21-14 lead following a 21-yard touchdown pass from junior Evan Sharpley to freshman Duval Kamara with 12 seconds left in the half.
A variation of the message was delivered one more time. Navy appeared to have won the game in the third overtime after sophomore Blake Carter deflected a two-point conversion pass intended for sophomore Robby Paris in the end zone. Navy's players and coaches stormed the field, but a penalty flag cut the celebration short.
Carter had been called for pass interference. Notre Dame, trailing 46-44, would have one more chance to tie and play a fourth overtime. On the sideline, Navy's coaches regrouped and quickly did the math. The Fighting Irish would have the ball 1 1/2 yards from the end zone. A running play almost certainly was coming.
"We told them to sell out on the run," Johnson said. "We told the corners to sell out. If they pass, they pass. . . . But they're not in the end zone yet."
Notre Dame called a running play for senior captain Travis Thomas. His first three carries on Saturday had resulted in touchdowns, including a five-yard run that brought the Irish within 46-44.
But on his fourth carry, senior linebacker Matt Wimsatt broke through the line and held Thomas in the backfield long enough for at least three teammates to join him. Thomas was stopped. There were no flags. Navy had won.
Wimsatt's older brother, Brad, had been the captain of the Navy team in 2000.