Notre Dame Athletic Director Moose Krause made a postgame visit to the Navy dressing room yesterday and told Coach George Welsh: "We got all the breaks in the first half. Otherwise it could have gone either way."
"I doubt that," Welsh replied.
Notre Dame left little doubt yesterday that Navy plays a different class of football. The Irish rolled up 530 yards against the nation's top-ranked defense and made a mockery on the Mids' unbeaten status, 27-7.
Halfback Vagas Ferguson rambled 219 yards, a Notre Dame record, in only 18 carries, an average of better than 12. His collection included an 80-yard touchdown sprint in the second quarter.
Notre Dame's rushing total of 375 yards came within 24 of the entire ground yield in Navy's first seven games.
"They were just better than we were," said Welsh. "They were hitting the hell out of us physically. They were much stronger. We couldn't tackle them. We have no excuses. They played two tight ends and knocked us off the ball. They ran right at us and we couldn't do anything about it."
Navy did not help itself by committing a plethora of offensive mistakes in the first half. The Mids fumbled away the ball in their territory on their first two possessions and Notre Dame capitalized for a 10-0 lead.
Being behind wa a new experience for Navy this surprising season of success, and against a powerhouse like Notre Dame it was not able to recoup. An 80-yard drive and Ferguson's 80-yard dash built the margin to 24-0 by halftime and it easily could have been a lot more.
In that half, Ferguson gained 177 yards in nine carries and the Irish rushed for 268 in 19. So it was with some derision that the crowd of 63,780 greeted the following mesage on the scoreboard at halftime:
"Navy Post-Game Celebration Immediately Following the Game at the Stadium Club Restaurant."
It was obvious that the only thing Navy would have to celebrate was survival, and the way its players were limping off the field, even that was questionable.
Navy won the coin toss, chose to receive and had a moment of high hopes as tailback Steve Callahan, swept left end for 36 yards on the first scrimmage play. On the second play, the feeling of disaster made its appearance.
Quarterback Bob Lessozynski, hesitating when he could not locate his intended receiver on a flat pass, was blasted from behind by end John Hankerd and tackle Jeff Weston recovered the ensuing fumble for the Irish at the Navy 46.
"It was a quick post to the tight end in the flat," Welsh explained. "Leszczynski is supposed to take three steps to the flat and throw. We don't block the weak-side end on that play, Leszczynski couldn't see the receiver, hesitated and got popped."
It took the Irish six plays to cover the 46 yards, with quarterback Joe Montana eating up the last 20 with a pass to split end Kris Haines. Cornerback Chuck Zingler hit Haines as he made the catch at the five, but the receiver bounced out of the tackle and into the end zone.
On the fourth play of Navy's next series, fullback Larry Klawinski fumbled at his 44 and tackle Jay Case grabbed the ball for Notre Dame. This time a holding penalty at the Navy six stalled the Irish and they settled for Charles Malo's 38-yard field goal.
Navy was foiled on its next series when tight end Curt Gainer caught a third-down pass a yard short of a first down and, instead of driving forward tried to cut back and wound up two yards short.
Later in the period, after Phil McConkey made a fair catch of a punt at his seven, McConkey hauled in a 43-yard pass from Leszczynski, tripping over defender Dave Waymer as he caught it. On third and four at the Irish 42, Klawinski gained a yard up the middle. Then, punting, Navy was forced to call a timeout when it had only 10 men on the field.
It figured that things couldn't get worse in the second quarter, but they did. The Irish marched 80 yards in 11 plays to make it 17-0 on Jerome Heavens' three-yard trap up the middle. Twice on the drive, the Irish made a necessary yard on fourth down.
Navy enjoyed some rare good fortune when Heavens, driving across from the two, was hit short of the goal line by Tom Paulk and Bart Nixon. He fumbled and Navy's Gregg Milo fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
After Navy's Bob Tata was wide right with a 35-yard field-goal try, Ferguson on first down swept left end and dashed 80 yards to score. Milo was the only defender with a shot at him and he stumbled and fell trying to avoid tight end Kevin Hart's block at the Navy 30.
An interception by cornerback Charlie Meyers at the Navy six averted further damage with 14 seconds left in the half.
Notre Dame never stopped trying to roll up the score, keeping Montana on duty until the game's final play. But its only further points came from a Male field goal of 42 yards in the fourth quarter.
After split end Dave Condeni dropped a Montana pass in the end zone with 2:04 left, Navy took the ball at its two with little hope of spoiling the shutout. But Randy Harrison bobbled a fair catch of a punt at the Irish 35 and Navy's Chris Klein recovered.
Reserve quarterback Bob Powers hit Sandy Jones with a 14-yard pass and Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine rushed his first-string defense back into the game.
Undaunted, Powers hit fullback Kevin Tolbert with an eight-yard toss and, following an out-of-bounds clock stopper, throw over the middle to McConkey for a touchdown with 12 seconds to play.
McConkey, hit hard by safety Joe Restic was knocked unconscious and afterward could not recall anything that occurred in the second half. Restic, too, was helped from the field.
Tim Koegel replaced Montana for the final play and compelted a pass as the Irish still were trying for more points.
Devine, asked afterward why had had left Montana in so long, reacted angrily: "Why are you always asking me that question? I was watching a game last week where Michigan was ahead 38-3 and (Rick) Leach was still in. Against Air Force, I took Montana out after two series in the third quarter. Not much can irk me today, but asking me that does."
Welsh, who might have been irked by the rollup attempt as well as his own players' shortcomings in this 15th straight Navy loss to Notre Dame, refused to be either belligerent or down-hearted.
"I have no comment on that, you'll have to ask Coach Devine," Welsh said. "We're seven and one, and that's only one loss. We have a chance to redeem ourselves. You don't like to get the ball shoved down your throats like that.But it's a loss, not a whole season. Now we'll see if we have any character."
Welsh may need to see if he has any healthy players. Cornerback Bob Wilson and tailback Mike Sherlock did not play yesterday. Callahan reinjured his wrist, and defensive tackle John Merrill and center Steve Kremer were banged up.
The Mids travel to Syracuse Saturday, secure at least in the knowledge that they will be back in their own league.