Navy, riding high following its shocking upset of tough Washington last week, came back to reality today. Third-ranked Notre Dame manhandled the Mids, rolling up a 26-0 halftime lead en route to a 33-0 thrashing before 76,891 fans at Giants Stadium.
Many of the folks, who spent the early part of the afternoon picnicking in the parking lot on this windy, blustery day, had some pre-game notion that the Mids might finally be able to break a 16-game losing streak against the Fighting Irish. That thought was extinguished quickly as tailback Jim Stone started rolling up 211 rushing yards for the day.
The Irish (7-0) gave a brief glimpse of what was in store on their first possession: they broke off several runs by Stone in driving from their 20 to the Mid 43 before running out of downs. Navy (5-3) did nothing on its first series and Lex Laulatta, aided by a gust of wind, got off a 69-yard punt that died at the Irish eight. That would be Navy's last positive aspect of the game.
As beleaguered Navy quarterback Fred Reitzel put it afterward: "They did what they wanted against us, to us and with us. It was just a terrible day."
Adding to their woes, the Mids lost some key players. Defensive tackle Chris Garner and reserve defensive back Jeff Oldam suffered knee injuries and are scheduled for surgery; nose guard Terry Huxel and cornerback Jon Ross also came up limping with knee sprains and are questionable for next week's game at Syracuse. Linebacker Ted Dumbauld broke a hand and his status is unknown.
Throughout Coach George Welsh's tenure at Navy, the Mids have been unable to sustain big efforts against powerful opponents in successive weeks because of attrition. Today was no different. Notre Dame's offensive line allowed Stone to run at will. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound senior, who is starting only because sensational sophomore Phil Carter is injured, rushed 187 yards on 23 carries in the first half.
Stone played a major role in the Mids' demise. Following the Lauletta kick, he gave the Irish some breathing room at his 17 before, on a third-and-one call, he exploded through a gaping hole on the left side of his line and didn't stop until cornerback Ross neck-tackled him 73 yards later at the Navy 10. One play later, Tyrone Barber, a junior out of St. John's (D.C.) High, scooted through another big hole to score. The kick was blocked, but Notre Dame was ahead, 6-0, with 5:37 left in the first period.
While the line moved straight ahead, Stone went around, through, under and past frustrated defenders. After Navy's Ed Meyers fumbled at his 21 on a first-down handoff following the kickoff, Stone lugged the ball six straight times to the three. From there, fullback Pete Buchanan, who up until that time distinguished himself by leading the blocking, barreled over for six points. Again the extra-point attempt failed, so it was 12-0 with 2:45 left in the first.
This was only the beginning of the Mid troubles. The good running game that has always been a Navy strength was thwarted. And Reitzel couldn't find time to pass, completing just four of 12 for 30 yards and getting sacked five times. He was intercepted once.
"I was surprised at the way they stopped us completely," Welsh said. "And their running game was easily the best we've seen. Stone was an awfully good back. I don't think they miss Carter that much."
Stone again did the bulk of the running on the Irish's third scoring drive. He capped the seven-play march with a 13-yard run around left end. Holder Dave Condemi fired a pass to Nick Vehr for the two-point conversion and Notre Dame was flying, 20-0, with 12:40 left in the half.
The final three Navy possessions of the half resembled a horror novel. First, Mike Sherlock was separated from the ball at his 13 on a first-down play following the Notre Dame kickoff. On the second play of the Mids' next series, Reitzel's pass was picked off by John Krimm and returned 18 yards to the Mid 20. On the hosts' final first-half set of downs, Navy began at its two and seven plays later was punting from its three.
In between, Harry Oliver, the nation's No. 2 field goal kicker, boomed 41- and 50-yard successes, pushing Notre Dame's lead to 26-0. The first kick enabled Oliver to break a school mark for most field goals in a single season -- 14. His second kick was the junior's 15th success in 18 tries.
Content with its overwhelming lead, Notre Dame did a good imitation of clock watching while holding the Mids in check. Navy, which had only 44 yards rushing on 38 attempts and a grand total of 130 yards, never came close to scoring. On the final play of the game, Navy managed to reach the Irish 30.
Many of the fans had retreated back to the fun in the parking lot and missed Greg Bell's 27-yard final quarter touchdown run to close out the scoring. It was just as well; he wasn't even listed on the Irish depth chart.