EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., NOV. 3 -- On a day when Notre Dame's punter might have seen more useful service as an assistant to the scoreboard operator, the Irish outpointed a resourceful but outmanned Navy team, 52-31.
The Midshipmen amassed 382 offensive yards and controlled the ball for 34 of the 60 minutes. They never were able to harness Notre Dame's speed, however, in a game that produced the most points in the unbroken 64-year series.
Although hurt by a couple of controversial calls by the officials, Navy (3-5) left the field at halftime in a 10-10 tie that no doubt startled fans across the country as well as the 70,382 here.
Notre Dame (7-1) scored on its first three possessions of the second half and appeared ready to break things open, but it never did as the final Irish padding on the scoreboard was provided by Todd Lyght's 53-yard return of an onside kickoff with nine seconds left.
While the Irish beat Navy for the 27th straight time, Coach Lou Holtz termed the result, "One of the lower spots in my career. You can't be a great football team if you don't play great defense. It's disappointing to score 52 points and not be able to put in the second unit. . . . We didn't expect the wishbone."
That statement probably best explains why Notre Dame, although never forced to punt, yielded 221 rushing yards to a Navy team that managed only 31 against Air Force and 93 against James Madison. The Midshipmen ran a cleverly designed ball-control offense from the wishbone formation without using the option.
"We ran our basic plays, but we lined up in a wishbone to make them react differently, which they did," said Navy quarterback Alton Grizzard, who ran for 93 yards in 18 carries and hit nine of 14 passes for 161 yards.
Grizzard threw only four times as Navy mounted three long drives in the first half that resulted in 10 points and a missed field goal. His first throw, after 14 straight running plays, was a 44-yard completion to tight end Dave Berghult at the Notre Dame 12.
Except for one play after that Navy tied the score at 10, the Irish had the ball only twice in the half. They got a touchdown the first time, on a one-yard dive by fullback Jerome Bettis, but the score was tainted by a third-down "completion" from quarterback Rick Mirer that appeared to have been trapped by split end Ray Griggs at the 11. Two plays later, Navy's Scott Carson nailed tailback Tony Brooks for a five-yard loss and was called for "taunting," giving the Irish a first down at the seven.
"That first touchdown was ridiculous," said Navy Coach George Chaump. "Everybody in the place saw the ball hit the ground. If the officials can't see that, they ought to try officiating basketball or something. And that taunting call -- that's not fair. He's happy and you've got to express your emotions. There's a difference between taunting and expressing exuberance."
The Irish, who could move into the top spot in the polls following losses by Virginia and Nebraska, lived up to their reputation for offensive fireworks in the second half. Following the kickoff, they drove 73 yards in nine plays for a 17-10 lead, fullback Rodney Culver driving the final seven behind an overpowering surge by his linemen.
Facing fourth and one at their 44, the Midshipmen tried a fake punt, snapping the ball to the up man, fullback Dominic Flis, who was smothered for a two-yard loss. The Irish needed only five plays to score again, tailback Ricky Watters diving over from the two.
Navy punted on its next possession and Notre Dame proved Chaump's point by going 51 yards in four plays for a 31-10 lead. Mirer hit Rocket Ismail for 25 yards and then, after throwing two incomplete passes, avoided a Navy blitz and sprinted 30 yards to score.
If that clearly identified the eventual winner, it hardly marked the end of the scoring. Before the third quarter was over, Navy linebacker Mark Ellis jarred the ball loose from Culver and Chris Cordero recovered at the Irish 19. Four plays later, Grizzard ran six yards to cut the deficit to 31-17.
After Tony Brooks's three-yard run climaxed a 48-yard Notre Dame drive, Grizzard hit Berghult with a 19-yard touchdown pass and it was 38-24.
Only 2:14 remained when Ismail caught a 54-yard touchdown pass from Mirer. It was Ismail's 16th career touchdown, with 13 coming on plays of 50 or more yards.
With 16 seconds left, Grizzard threw a seven-yard scoring pass to B.J. Mason. Seven seconds later, Lyght was celebrating in the end zone, after scooping up an onside kick near the right sideline and streaking to the end zone.