Notre Dame's tired old fight song played so loud in the tunnels of this ancient stadium today, it drowned out Navy Coach Gary Tranquill just as he was remarking that you can't turn the ball over six times and hope to win. Particularly against a Fighting Irish team all but incensed by a mediocre season and ongoing controversy.
The Fighting Irish (4-3) went a fair ways toward remedying its season with a 41-17 defeat of Navy at Notre Dame Stadium, its 22nd straight over the Midshipmen (3-5), who persist in playing the nation's longest running intersectional rivalry despite the fact that they haven't won since 1963.
These losses to Notre Dame always seem to happen to Navy in odd ways. Today's was perhaps odder than any of them, for the usually reliable Napoleon McCallum set up all three of Notre Dame's second-half touchdowns with fumbles.
Navy scored only on McCallum's one-yard run in the first quarter, Todd Solomon's 42-yard field goal in the second quarter, and reserve back Don Holl's one-yard run with 1:57 remaining.
Navy quarterback Bill Byrne, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 192 yards, threw two interceptions and tailback Mike Smith fumbled once. The Midshipmen fumbled twice more, but recovered them. What was most strange about this state of affairs was that Navy had lost only two fumbles all year.
"We saved them up for today," said Tranquill. "You can't win with six turnovers, I know that."
Like John Heisman once said of what he referred to as the elongated spheroid, "better to die as a small boy than to fumble this," because Notre Dame turned a 20-10 halftime lead into a rout with the turnovers. McCallum's first fumble became Heisman Trophy contender Allen Pinkett's 29-yard touchdown in the third quarter, the second a 48-yard scoring pass from backup quarterback Terry Andrysiak to flanker Tim Brown, and the third freshman tailback Hiawatha Francisco's two-yard run in the fourth period.
"I lost control, the ball just flew out," said McCallum, who gained 124 yards on 24 carries. "I should have held on with two hands more going through the middle. I was trying to get just a little more, going to the limit."
Pinkett, a senior from Sterling, Va., who has four career 100-yard games against Navy, carried 27 times for three touchdowns and 161 of Notre Dame's 314 rushing yards. His other scores were of one and two yards in the second quarter.
Fullback Frank Stams had a one-yard scoring run in the second quarter as Notre Dame accumulated 544 yards total offense, the highest in embattled Coach Gerry Faust's tenure. It was Notre Dame's third straight victory.
"We're getting better each week," Faust said. "We had a slow start but we got on track."
It was a performance in part attributable to Andrysiak, a sophomore who replaced starter Steve Beuerlein on the third Notre Dame series. Beuerlein suffered a bruised shoulder in a 37-3 victory over USC last week and had thrown only one day this week, but Faust decided to start him.
Beuerlein completed three of six passes for 35 yards and one interception before leaving. Andrysiak completed 11 of 17 for 195 yards. Andrysiak tied a Notre Dame record for most consecutive completions, with 10 over brief appearances in his last three games, including five straight today.
"Things worked with him in there," said offensive lineman Tim Scannell. "We weren't doing anything, right up until he came in. He was the catalyst."
Andrysiak may have stirred a quarterback controversy. Beuerlein underwent offseason shoulder surgery and has not been sharp. Despite Andrysiak's performance, Faust said Beuerlein would remain his starter. Andrysiak admitted to disappointment when he heard the verdict, but was mainly relieved about the outcome.
"When I came in, I felt the first-team offense was kind of searching for an answer," he said. "They were all pepped up and hoping we could get going and do something. We did."
Notre Dame took a 20-10 lead at the half on scoring runs of two and one yards by Pinkett and a two-yard run by Stams, all drives directed by Andrysiak.
Notre Dame's second touchdown was set up by a questionable decision by Tranquill with the score tied at 7. Navy had driven to the Notre Dame 42, when it faced fourth and four with 10:52 left in the half. Instead of punting and trying to pin the Irish against their goal line, the Midshipmen tried to throw a short pass to McCallum, which was incomplete. Notre Dame drove 58 yards in just 1:53, Pinkett scoring with 8:59 remaining in the half for its first lead of the game. John Carney missed the extra point, and it was 13-7.
"I thought we could make it," Tranquill said.
"I was surprised by that," Andrysiak said. "I thought if we could score there after stopping them, it could really break their backs."
The real crux of the matter, however, were the turnovers. While the Midshipmen totaled 388 yards offense, they weren't able to do much when it counted and were only two of 10 on third-down conversions.
"I had a funny feeling that we were still in it, right until they got 41 points," Tranquill said. "Even at the half, I thought we were in pretty good shape . . . I thought we could move the ball and we did, but every time we got something going, we turned it over. Bam, we gave it back to them."