Navy's football team has lost 17 straight games to Notre Dame, but as Steve Fehr, the Midshipmen's all-America kicker, said yesterday, "This could be the year."
"Most of us feel they (the Irish) still have good personnel, but they aren't playing as well (2-4) as their teams have in the past and we're playing good right now," Fehr said. "So, if ever there was a time, this is it. It's going to be a close game so that means the kicking game could be the difference."
And if it does come down to the kicking game, Navy (5-2) will have a distinct advantage. Fehr is tied for first in the nation in field goals, making 15 of 19 attempts this season. He has attempted and made more field goals than any other kicker in the country except for Kevin Butler of Georgia, who also is 15 for 19. Fehr also has made 15 of 16 extra points.
He had 46 straight extra points until holder Marco Pagnanelli fumbled a snap against Boston College two games ago and failed to get the ball on the tee properly. Fehr has made nine straight field goals over the past three games and hasn't missed from inside the 40. He's nine for nine from the 30- to the 39-yard lines, two for two from the 20 to 29 and four for eight from the 40 to the 49.
"I've been hitting the ball real well," said Fehr, a senior from Cincinnati. "Sometimes you get in a groove, like a basketball player, and feel like you can't miss. That's how I feel right now. I just hope I keep it up."
Fehr was Playboy magazine's preseason all-America kicker and already holds 10 Navy kicking records. He is 25 points behind Joe Bellino, Navy's all-time leading scorer.
The confidence Fehr has in himself is shared by his teammates.
"Whenever we get the ball inside the 40, we feel we have an automatic three points," said tailback Eddie Meyers. "Of course we want to score the touchdown, but we know if we don't we've got Steve to fall back on."
Fehr said he feels 19 field goal attempts in seven games "is a lot, but if that's what we need, it's fine with me. I expected to average between two or three attempts a game, anyway."
"He's a big-league kicker," said Coach George Welsh. "He has a great attitude and if he kicks one bad one, it doesn't bother him. He knows he's good and so does the rest of the team and that puts confidence in all of them."
Because Fehr is such a good athlete and Welsh was without a punter at the beginning of the season, he decided to try Fehr at that position, although Fehr is a soccer-style kicker. At first both Welsh and Fehr feared the punting might affect Fehr's placements. But that hasn't happened.
Fehr is averaging 32.3 yards on 43 punts, but that is a misleading figure. The opposition has returned only 10 of his punts for a total of 24 yards, and Fehr has had three punts downed inside the five in the last three weeks.
Welsh is trying to keep Saturday's game with the Irish in perspective. "This is still only one game out of 11 for us. We haven't beaten Notre Dame in 17 years, but these kids weren't here for all 17 of them, so that doesn't mean a thing," he said.
The one thing Fehr said he hasn't done yet is win a game with a field goal in the final seconds.
"That's the one situation I'd like," he said. "I've just never been in a position to have the game riding on my foot, I think I'd like that. Maybe this will be the week."