With a furious 11-point comeback, topped off by a last-minute 44-yard field goal, Notre Dame pulled out another one, this time an 18-17 victory against Navy.

The usual Irish luck? Possibly.

Then again, it may have been illegal.

Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said Irish kicker John Carney's field goal with 14 seconds remaining came after the 25-second clock on the field had run out.

"I would stake my life on it," Tranquill said. "I don't like to say anything about the officiating, but, I'll tell you, some of these guys are gutless when the ballgame's on the line.

"I turned and watched the zero and I turned and then the ball came (on the snap). I would stake my life on it. It was late. Somebody else saw it too . . . you saw it, didn't you? Damn right I'm right."

Referee Bill McDonald, who watched Tranquill march onto the field to argue as Notre Dame players celebrated nearby, said later that field judge John Daniels "lost sight" of the clock.

"The field judge is responsible for the 25-second clock," McDonald said. "His back was to the one clock -- he was watching the clock at the other end of the field. He lost sight for a few seconds because the defense was jumping up and down. In his opinion, the clock did not exceed 25 seconds."

In Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust's opinion, that was right. "The kick went off as the clock hit zero," he said. His team, once 3-4, is now 5-4 with two games left. Navy dropped to 3-4-1.

Navy players, who had just seen their first victory in this series since 1963 snatched from them, unanimously agreed the clock hit zero before the kick. Notre Dame players smiled and shrugged.

"That's the way it's supposed to be," tailback Allen Pinkett said after rushing for 165 yards on 37 carries and scoring two touchdowns.

"The old luck of the Irish."

If the clock did run out, the officials should have called a delay of game penalty. That would have meant Carney, who missed a 50-yard attempt with the 8-mph wind earlier in the game, would have had to make a 49-yard attempt into the wind to win the game.

Would he have made it? Navy quarterback Bill Byrne, who hurt his ankle late in the third quarter and never returned, said the wind died considerably as the game wore on. Also, Carney is known for a strong leg. "I don't worry about the length," Faust said of his field goal.

The controversy was only the last of several factors on which Navy could blame its loss. Tranquill decided to decline an offsides penalty and take a field goal for the 17-7 lead rather than a first down at the Notre Dame 10 with 4:02 left.

The Midshipmen could point to injuries that, at one point in the third quarter, forced out their three best offensive players. They may well look at a prevent defense in the last three minutes that allowed Notre Dame's final 11 points and prevented absolutely nothing.

The "other field goal," Navy's final score, was Todd Solomon's 32-yard kick as Notre Dame was called offsides. Tranquill told his players to decline the penalty. "I thought 17 points looked pretty good at the time," he said. "We were playing good defense. I wanted the points on the board. We had a 17-7 lead, and I thought that would suffice."

It seemed to be a good decision. The Irish scored the first time they had the ball -- on Pinkett's one-yard run -- and they hadn't scored since. Quarterback Steve Beuerlein was seven of 19 and had thrown four interceptions, and two other Irish drives had ended in fumbles.

"That's terrible," Faust said.

There was no reason to figure the Irish would wake up. "We knew we had something big on our hands," Byrne said.

A Navy victory appeared imminent, but it really was most improbable. Byrne injured his ankle when, after an interception, he tried to tackle Irish linebacker Rick DiBernardo and fell, bending over backward onto his foot. He left with 11 completions in 19 attempts for 85 yards. His status is unknown for next week's game at Syracuse.

Tailback Rich Clouse also injured his ankle slightly and missed a series in the third quarter, while tight end Mark Stevens injured his kneecap in the first half and missed the rest of the game.

One of the first Midshipmen to console the injured on the bench was tailback Napoleon McCallum, who broke his ankle in the second game of the season.

But Notre Dame had been stoppable -- until the final four minutes. Faust clapped his hands and told his team not to give up, and said he never even "considered" losing.

Beuerlein, playing what he later called "my worst game ever," completed eight consecutive passes over two drives, leading the Irish to Pinkett's one-yard run with 2:17 remaining, then Carney's field goal.

In between, another call rankled Tranquill. Navy punter Mark Colby, punting from his 33-yard line, fell under a heavy rush and hurt his ankle and, possibly, knee. Those on the Navy bench screamed for a roughing the kicker penalty. They didn't get it, and Notre Dame was ready to march to the field goal.

Faust credited Beuerlein's late success with his ability to find receivers between the Navy line and the deep-dropping secondary. Pinkett, for example, gained 29 yards on a screen pass to set up the field goal.

Notre Dame also stopped making mistakes. Both of Navy's touchdowns were set up by turnovers. Fullback John Berner scored on a six-yard run as four Notre Dame goal-line defenders raced onto the field at the last second. Byrne scored the other touchdown on a new play called "Screwball," in which backup quarterback Joe Lauletta lined up at tailback, took the snap and threw to Byrne, who went in motion, for a two-yard touchdown.

But Pinkett said Navy didn't lose this game, Notre Dame won it.

"Navy didn't let up," he said. "The service academies don't do that. They have to protect our country. They know how to fight.

"But we're fighters, too."