Notre Dame 42, Navy 21
For Navy's football team to end its 41-game losing streak against Notre Dame, Coach Paul Johnson said the Midshipmen had to play "close to perfect" and, most importantly, had to keep the football away from the No. 7 Fighting Irish's high-octane offense.
Navy did that for the first 271/2 minutes at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, but during the final 21/2 minutes of the first half and nearly all of the second, the Midshipmen not only allowed the Fighting Irish to keep the football too long, they also allowed quarterback Brady Quinn to stand in the pocket unmolested on nearly every play.
With Navy's three-man defensive front unable to apply pressure on Quinn, he completed 22 of 31 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns, leading Notre Dame to a 42-21 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 80,795 on a perfect autumn afternoon. The Fighting Irish beat the Midshipmen for the 42nd time in a row, the longest winning streak over one opponent in NCAA history, and with former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis now directing the Notre Dame offense, it doesn't seem Navy will end its drought anytime soon.
Notre Dame (7-2) stayed in contention for an at-large berth in the Bowl Championship Series with games left against Syracuse and at Stanford. Navy (5-4) can still qualify for a bowl game by beating winless Temple in Annapolis next week or Army in Philadelphia on Dec. 3.
"For us to have a chance today, we had to play close to perfect and that's hard to do," Johnson said. "They're light years ahead offensively. This team has a pretty experienced offensive line and they play that way -- nobody gets close to their quarterback."
The Midshipmen rarely got close to Quinn, whose four touchdown passes gave him 53 in his career, breaking the Notre Dame record of 52. Quinn also set a school record by throwing 130 consecutive passes without an interception, a streak that ended when safety DuJuan Price intercepted his pass to Jeff Samardzija over the middle early in the fourth quarter.
"For the most part, he could just stand back there and wait for someone to get open," Weis said of his quarterback. "One time, he went to his fifth receiver. You normally don't have time to get through your whole progression -- one, two, three, four, five -- but there were a couple of times he could because of good protection."
After Notre Dame scored two touchdowns late in the first half to go ahead 28-7 at halftime, Navy came back and scored a touchdown on its first possession of the second half for the sixth game in a row. The Midshipmen drove 80 yards on 12 plays, with quarterback Lamar Owens scoring on a one-yard sneak and Joey Bullen's extra point making it 28-14 with 8 minutes 48 seconds to play in the third quarter.
But it didn't take the Fighting Irish long to score again. Notre Dame did most of its damage running during the drive, and fullback Asaph Schwapp ran for three yards on fourth and one at the Navy 19. On the next play, Quinn threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Stovall, who beat cornerback Greg Thrasher. D.J. Fitzpatrick's extra point gave the Fighting Irish a 35-14 lead with 3:33 left in the third.
After Quinn threw his interception at the Navy 12, Notre Dame got the football back with about 111/2 minutes to play. It looked like Navy was going to quickly regain possession, but then the Midshipmen were penalized for running into the punter, giving Notre Dame a first down. The Irish picked up two more first downs and then Quinn threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Stovall, who beat cornerback Keenan Little to make a nice over-the-shoulder catch.
Stovall caught eight passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns, giving him eight touchdown catches in the last three games. Irish tailback Darius Walker ran 19 times for 118 yards and one touchdown. Notre Dame had 505 yards of offense; Navy had 314.
"Stovall was fast and strong," Little said. "I tried to jam him a couple of times and he's so strong that it didn't do much good and he still got deep. When they throw it up, he's just like a basketball player and goes up and gets it. It was frustrating to know that he's up there, you're in perfect position, but he still gets the ball."