Mids find Irish unstoppable

Quinn has 3 TD passes

Kaheaku-Enhada keeps Navy close early

No. 11 Notre Dame 38 Navy 14

October 29, 2006|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

For a while yesterday, Navy did enough to make a nearly impossible mission look manageable. With newly installed sophomore quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada running the offense impressively, the Midshipmen were able to hang with No. 11 Notre Dame during much of the first half.

Then, reality began to set in, beginning with a Fighting Irish offense that could not be stopped. And by the time Notre Dame senior quarterback Brady Quinn had dominated Navy's defense and led the Irish to a 38-14 victory before 71,851 at M&T Bank Stadium, college football's longest-running intersectional series had gotten more lopsided.

Quinn, who had his way with Navy a year ago, was dazzling again yesterday, completing 18 of 25 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns, including two to senior wide receiver Rhema McKnight. Quinn countered an occasionally good pass rush with poise and good decisions, and the 6-foot-4 Heisman Trophy contender showed he could move by running 19 yards for a touchdown.

And while Quinn was directing Notre Dame to five scores on its first six possessions to stake the Irish to a 31-14 lead midway through the third quarter, the Irish defense clamped down on Kaheaku-Enhada, who acquitted himself well in his first career start. But after running Navy's triple option effectively early and capping two long drives with 1-yard touchdown runs to pull the Mids to within 17-14 with 2:43 left in the first half, he ran out of gas against a defense that asserted its size and quickness.

Notre Dame (7-1) sealed its 43rd straight victory over Navy (5-3) and padded its record against the Mids to 70-9-1 by holding Navy to zero points, five first downs and 78 yards in the second half.

"For a while, we were able to match [Notre Dame] score for score, but that's no way for us to play. You're not going to survive like that," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "I told our guys at halftime I thought we had a chance, but you're not going to beat them if you don't stop them once," he added. "They've got some weapons."

"It was just like we knew it was going to be," Navy senior cornerback Keenan Little said. "It was a difficult task."

Little, who had a team-high 10 tackles, would know. He was assigned to cover the 6-2 McKnight, who hurt the Mids downfield with six catches for 94 yards and a pair of scores.

McKnight leaped over the 5-11 Little in the end zone to grab a 33-yard touchdown toss by Quinn that made it 24-14 with 1:19 left in the first half. His block on Little ushered Quinn into the end zone at the end of his 19-yard touchdown run that put the Irish firmly in front, 31-14, with 8:10 left in the third quarter.

That score came five plays after a critical Navy defensive error. On third-and-19, Quinn passed to Walker for 12 yards, but Navy middle linebacker Rob Caldwell drew a personal foul penalty by hitting Walker out of bounds. Five plays later, Quinn ran behind McKnight's block for the score.

McKnight also caught a 6-yard pass that finished the scoring with 9:36 to play.

In addition, tight end John Carlson (five catches, 75 yards) was a nightmare down the middle, and junior running back Darius Walker (20 carries, 103 yards) became the first running back to reach 100 yards against Navy this year.

"We knew we were going to have to put more points on the board or they would come knocking," Quinn said.

The Mids were sharp early with Kaheaku-Enhada, the Hawaii native who replaced senior Brian Hampton after he suffered a season-ending knee injury early in a 34-0 loss to Rutgers two weeks ago.

Kaheaku-Enhada looked loose and confident as he directed Navy's first three possessions productively with well-timed option pitches.

The first drive ended in a missed 32-yard field-goal attempt by sophomore kicker Matt Harmon. The second, a nine-play, 80-yard march, featured a 15-yard run up the middle by Kaheaku-Enhada, a 26-yard end-around to senior wide receiver Jason Tomlinson and a 19-yard completion to Tomlinson. It ended with Kaheaku-Enhada's 1-yard run that cut Notre Dame's lead to 10-7 with 11:39 left in the first half.

After running back Travis Thomas answered with a 16-yard touchdown run for a 17-7 Notre Dame advantage, Kaheaku-Enhada drove Navy 65 yards in 13 plays and scored on a 1-yard run to make it 17-14 with 2:43 left in the half.

"I wasn't that nervous at all. We've been executing the offense all week in practice," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "I'd give myself an F. As a quarterback, you want to lead our team to a win, and I didn't do that."gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

Play it again

A summary of Navy's 38-14 loss to Notre Dame:

What went right -- Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada ran the option well in the first half of his first college start, and junior slotback Reggie Campbell was tough and elusive with 81 yards on 14 carries.

What went wrong -- Navy's defense was no match for the Irish, who totaled 176 yards rushing and an additional 295 through the air. Notre Dame did not punt and scored on six of its first eight possessions.

Defining moment -- The Mids had no margin for error, and linebacker Rob Caldwell's personal foul kept alive an Irish drive that eventually made it 31-14 with 8:10 left in the third quarter.

What it means -- For only the second time in the past four seasons, Navy has lost two games in a row. The Mids remain one victory shy of bowl eligibility.

Up next -- Navy should find a painkiller on the road in the form of 0-8 Duke. With yesterday's 45-28 loss at home to Vanderbilt, the Blue Devils have lost 16 straight - the longest active losing streak in Division I-A.

[Gary Lambrecht]

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