Irish keep firm grasp on Navy, 27-9

N. Dame quickly shows unbeaten Mids they're no match in 41st in row

College Football

October 17, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Streak is very much alive and still getting Navy's goat.

This was supposed to be the year when the previously unvanquished Midshipmen could play with Notre Dame and possibly end the longest-running domination by one school over another in NCAA Division I-A history.

But the Irish seized the initiative from the onset yesterday at Giants Stadium and ruined Navy's lofty hopes, 27-9, before 76,166 wind-chilled fans.

The defeat spilled Navy (5-1) from the list of 14 Division I-A teams that entered the weekend undefeated and extended to 41 its consecutive failures against the Irish, who performed like a team that has its sights set on an attractive bowl bid. Navy has not won in the series since 1963, when Roger Staubach was a junior en route to the Heisman Trophy.

There was no close call or heartbreaking ending this time. Notre Dame (5-2) marched 81 and 68 yards to touchdowns with its first two possessions, taking control that it never relinquished. Superior talent, size and speed were simply too much to overcome for Navy, which could not muster the near-perfect effort it required to remain competitive.

"When we got it down to 17-3 [at the start of the second half], they proceeded to just mash us again," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "This year they beat us pretty good."

The Midshipmen received the second-half kickoff and drove 81 yards to a 29-yard field goal by Geoff Blumenfeld, their chance for a touchdown foiled by a fumble by Marco Nelson on a pitchout.

Notre Dame had an immediate answer. Senior running back Ryan Grant accounted for 64 of the 73 yards covered via rushes or pass receptions, taking a pitchout the final yard for a touchdown to restore order at 24-3. On the next play from scrimmage, Navy receiver Lloyd Regas fumbled on a reverse and Derek Landri recovered for the Irish at the Navy 13.

A second field goal by D.J. Fitzpatrick followed, boosting the margin to 24 points and ending any remaining suspense.

"We had to play mentally perfect to have a chance in this game and we didn't do that," said Navy quarterback Aaron Polanco, who was sacked five times and did not complete a pass until the seventh play of the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame's lines pushed their counterparts all over the field early. A harbinger of what was to come arrived on the first drive, when the Midshipmen surrendered only their second first-quarter touchdown this season. The other was by Northeastern -- after an interception return to the Navy 1.

"There was a little difference between the two line of scrimmages," Johnson said.

In addition, ill-timed mistakes or misfortune kept undermining the Midshipmen.

Linebacker Lane Jackson appeared to have aim on Irish quarterback Brady Quinn on a first-quarter blitz, but fell. Quinn sidestepped him and completed a third-down pass to Matt Shelton for a 30-yard gain. Two plays later, Grant scored for a 14-0 lead.

Guard Dennis Ray Phillips jumped offside when Navy was trying to convert a fourth-and-one at its 26 on the first play of the second quarter. The Midshipmen had to punt.

Navy was still holding onto hope when its running game began clicking on its first second-half possession, but the Midshipmen never mustered a spark that might have changed the tenor.

"The defense needed to get some turnovers and we didn't get a single one," safety Josh Smith said. It marked the second straight season in which the Irish did not give away the ball once against Navy.

Both coaches had stressed a quick start as critical in this matchup, the 78th of the lopsided series. Notre Dame leads 68-9-1, after thoroughly controlling the first half.

"It was key to start fast like that," Irish defensive tackle Greg Pauly said. "It put us in better position. That put Navy in the type of offense that they haven't had to run all year. Everyone just took their assignments and stuck them."

Navy managed 216 net yards rushing on 61 carries, becoming only the third team to eclipse 100 yards against the Irish. Fullback Kyle Eckel amassed 102 in his second 100-plus performance of the season. But Navy's deepest first-half penetration was to the Notre Dame 36 before being stopped on downs.

"The reason we were running the ball so much is that we couldn't protect to throw it," Johnson said. "It doesn't make much sense to throw it when the quarterback is looking up at the sky every time he drops back."

Said Smith: "We were definitely up for the game. I don't know what happened. Mentally, I don't think we were there."

Against Notre Dame, that was a big mistake.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Rice (3-3) vs. Navy (5-1)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Last night: Rice lost to Nevada, 35-10

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