Navy eyes are still smiling

Victory over Irish a matter of Mids' `ship coming in'

November 05, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

An hour after Saturday's 46-44, triple-overtime victory that ended a 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame, Navy coach Paul Johnson had already moved on.

"It's [already] processed," he said. "It is a big win. I'm excited for our players, [but] you know, I think as a football coach, what happens is you inevitably, when you win, you never enjoy it as much as when you beat yourself up when you lose.

"I find myself doing that all the time. We had a celebration in the locker room, and I told our guys we got to come back [today] and get ready for next week."

Navy (5-4) will go to North Texas (1-7) on Saturday for a first-time meeting with the Mean Green in Denton. But, for today, let a little euphoria reign.

On Saturday, Navy saw its long-awaited dream against Notre Dame come true. The win prompted the academy's commandant of midshipmen, Capt. Peg Klein, to cancel classes today and prompted athletic director Chet Gladchuck to remember how far the football program has come under Johnson.

"[This win] was about five years of work," Gladchuck said, recalling the 2001 season, when Navy was 0-10 the year before Johnson arrived. "That's when we started this project to see if we could come together as a football team and program and win.

"[Saturday's] game was about focus, determination and the ship coming in. There were guys playing who we'd never seen play before. It exemplified the winning attitude the program has built."

Gladchuck pointed to the closing minutes of the game, when freshman rover Wyatt Middleton had to leave after being shaken up and Emmett Merchant, another freshman, came in.

"Here's a guy, a freshman, coming into the biggest game in 43 years and when he walks on the field, seven guys went to meet him and hug him and say, `We believe in you,' " he said. "It's the kind of chemistry we have right now. Despite disadvantages - of being back on our heels, of questionable calls - in the end, the kids believed they'd win. All of them believed it - first, second, third or fourth class, it didn't matter.

"We believed in each other. We believed we were going to win - and we did."

It was a historic game in a stadium packed with more than 80,000 fans, many of whom certainly had become accustomed to a Notre Dame tradition that included counting on Navy to cure whatever woes might be troubling the Fighting Irish.

Despite the Irish's record of one win in their first eight games, the fans likely believed the tradition would continue until Navy's relentless offense, determined defense and resilient special teams combined to end the streak. All it took was the series' first overtime game and 90 combined points, the most ever in the 80-year-old series.

When it was over, broad smiles - seemingly mixed with disbelief - abounded on Navy faces.

"It's been 40-some years," said senior slotback Reggie Campbell, who scored the final touchdown and the game-winning two-point conversion. "All week there had been something in the backs of our minds - preparing to win. I thought we did a good job of going out there and having composure and having faith."

And so today, while Johnson plots for Saturday's next encounter, the Mids and their fans should take a few minutes to enjoy the many ways Navy beat Notre Dame:

Navy's defense sacking Irish quarterback Evan Sharpley four times.

Junior right end Michael Walsh sacking Sharpley and senior left end Chris Kuhar-Pitters picking up the loose ball and returning it 16 yards for a touchdown.

Walsh and a horde of Navy defenders trapping Notre Dame senior halfback Travis Thomas 3 yards short of a two-point conversion on the final play of the game.

Senior kicker Joey Bullen, who had missed an extra point for the first time in 37 previous tries during regulation, coming through with a 32-yard field goal in the second overtime.

And sophomore Ram Vela at outside linebacker, who took a flying leap over a blocker to join Kuhar-Pitters in a key sack on Sharpley on fourth-and-eight with the game tied and 41 seconds left in regulation.

For Navy, it was a day of countless riches.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

NAVY REWIND

Replay

The fourth-quarter sack of Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley by Navy junior right end Michael Walsh and Sharpley's ensuing fumble that was scooped up by senior left end Chris Kuhar-Pitters and returned 16 yards for a touchdown.

Erase

Navy's clock management at the end of the fourth quarter. After posting two drives that lasted more than 8 minutes, the Mids could not eat up the final 2:31 of the fourth quarter, a situation that could have cost them the game had Notre Dame had a reliable field-goal kicker.

Fast forward

North Texas, a team that is surrounded by racial-bias accusations from current and former players and is struggling through a 1-7 season, is Navy's opponent Saturday. The Mids (5-4) will try to take advantage of the unrest and clinch a spot in the Dec. 20 Poinsettia Bowl.

SANDRA MCKEE

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