JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Notre Dame looked like it found a turning point against Navy, but found another way to make a mind-numbing special teams mistake to wipe out any semblance of momentum. (Update: it was a mistake that shouldn't have been called by the officials).
A too-many-men-on-the-field penalty negated Navy’s first punt of the game late in the third quarter, and instead of having a chance to build on its lead, Notre Dame lost it. Eventually, the Irish lost the game, 28-27, in front of 50,867 at EverBank Field, Brian Kelly’s sixth loss of the season. That’s the most losses Kelly has had in a season at Notre Dame, and the Irish still have three games left against above-.500 teams in Army, Virginia Tech and USC.
Notre Dame started strong in the first quarter — as they have seemingly all year — with DeShone Kizer finding Torii Hunter Jr. for a 26-yard touchdown on the game’s first drive. After Navy promptly tied things up on their first possession, Notre Dame drove for a 39-yard field goal late in the first quarter.
Notre Dame finished the second half with a strong, lengthy drive on which it rushed 12 times and passed twice (though some of those rushes were Kizer scrambles). The upshot of that run-first playcalling was a drive lasting 7:13, which ended on Kizer’s eight-yard play action swing pass to tight end Durham Smythe for a touchdown with only 30 seconds left in the first half.
That late-quarter score was critical given Notre Dame’s problems stopping Navy’s offense and that the Mids were due to get the ball back to begin the second half. Navy quickly delivered a touchdown to open the third quarter when Calvin Cass Jr. rumbled 37 yards on third-and-nine for a score — a play which came complete with a punishing block delivered on Notre Dame freshman cornerback Troy Pride Jr.
But Notre Dame quickly responded, with Kizer looking more assured of himself on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Equanimeous St. Brown’s second impressive somersault touchdown of the season to put the Irish back ahead.
Notre Dame finally got a hard-earned defensive stop after St. Brown’s score, thanks largely to James Onwualu’s six-yard tackle for a loss. But as was the case against Michigan State (a muffed punt), Duke (a kickoff return), N.C. State (a blocked punt) and Miami (two muffed punts), a blunder on special teams swung things in favor of Notre Dame’s opponent.
Navy accepted the five-yard penalty and converted its 4th and 1 try, then turned two third-and-longs into first downs and took the lead on Worth’s one-yard touchdown plunge.
Notre Dame drove 68 yards into Navy territory but curiously called for a field goal on fourth-and-4 at the Navy 14-yard line, giving the ball back to Worth and the Mids without the lead with 7:28 left.
Navy converted a third-and-nine on its ensuing possession after Nick Coleman was flagged for pass interference, then picked up a first down on fourth-and-one inside its own territory. And after converting a third-and-three, Worth on his final fourth down try — a fourth-and-six deep in Notre Dame territory — completed a pass to pick up the first down and end the game.
The Mids then converted a third-and-three and successfully ran out the clock on their first win over Notre Dame since 2010. Kelly joins Charlie Weis as the only coaches to lose to Navy twice at Notre Dame since World War II.