Five key moments from Notre Dame’s 35-32 victory over Navy
Liam Coolican | Saturday, November 12, 2022
Notre Dame defeated Navy by a score of 35-32 Saturday afternoon at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium for their fourth consecutive win. Here are five key moments from the victory.
Offense turns to Pyne early as quarterback has career first half
A week after Notre Dame ran roughshod over the vaunted Clemson defense, many expected more of the same Saturday. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne completed just nine passes for 85 yards a week ago. Yet on the first drive of the game, he picked apart the Midshipmen defense, completing all four of his passes for 58 yards, including a 30-yard catch and run to sophomore running back Audric Estime to open the scoring.
He also completed a key fourth down on a quarterback sneak to keep the drive alive, as Notre Dame raced out to a 7-0 lead in less than five minutes. The first drive was merely a precursor to what was to come as the offense continued to count on Pyne throughout the rest of the first half. He would finish the first half with an impressive statline of 14-16 for 234 yards and five total touchdowns.
Lenzy hauls in circus catch
Towards the end of opening the quarter, with the Irish already leading by a touchdown, Pyne evaded pressure, scrambled to his right and heaved the ball towards the end zone. It looked like a sure incompletion, or worse, with a defender draped all over his intended receiver, senior Braden Lenzy. Instead, Lenzy somehow turned it into his second touchdown of the season, pinning the ball against his defender’s back for one of the best catches in college football this year. It was a 38 yard score which pushed Pyne over the 100-yard mark, and seemed to galvanize the offense even further.
Pyne, who in past weeks seemed hesitant to take a shot down the field, was able to get several different targets involved early, particularly on third down. Deion Colzie had a big, 27-yard gain to convert on 3rd and 12 and Jayden Thomas had a 38 yard gain on 3rd and 10, which set up Pyne’s third touchdown. In total, Pyne completed a pass to seven different receivers. Interestingly, junior tight end Michael Mayer, typically Pyne’s most reliable target, was relatively quiet, finishing with just three receptions for 23 yards.
As Notre Dame struggled slightly on the ground, gaining 89 yards on 19 carries in the first half, Pyne’s success proved all the more critical, and proved Notre Dame could win in multiple ways after last week’s dominant rushing performance against Clemson.
Navy’s trickery backfires
After the Midshipmen scored their second touchdown of the game to make the score 21-13, they looked poised to climb back into the contest. They attempted to catch the Irish off guard on the ensuing kickoff with a surprise onside kick, but Notre Dame was prepared. Sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie fell on the ball at midfield, and the Irish started the drive with great field position.
The Midshipmen defense bailed out their coaching staff’s unconventional decision, forcing the Irish to attempt a long field goal. Blake Grupe’s 45-yard try went wide right, and Navy had another chance. But on the very first play of the subsequent drive, they returned to the trickery. A reverse went to slotback Kai Puailoa-Rojas, who attempted to find a receiver downfield. His poor attempt at a pass fell directly into the arms of junior cornerback Clarence Lewis, and the Irish got the ball right back at the Navy 41.
This time, they needed just three plays to take advantage. After Estime broke off a 28-yard run, Pyne scrambled in from 11 yards out for his fourth total touchdown of the game.
Special teams blocks another punt as Irish build insurmountable lead
On the next drive, the special teams unit once again came through for Notre Dame by blocking a punt. This time, it was junior linebacker Jack Kiser who got a hand on it with just 1:27 left in the first half. The Irish took over at the Navy 37, and Pyne wasted no time, finding Thomas in the end zone on the first play of the drive with one of his best throws of the afternoon.
It was Notre Dame’s seventh blocked punt of the year, which leads the nation, and the fifth consecutive game in which they have blocked at least one. Thomas’ touchdown gave the Irish an seemingly insurmountable lead 35-13 at the break. Even as Navy continued to battle and the Irish offense struggled in the second half, it was inconsequential.
Irish offense held to 12 yards in second half, Midshipmen mount furious comeback
Despite Notre Dame’s big lead at halftime, Navy came out of the locker room with another level of play, especially on defense. The Midshipmen held Notre Dame to just three yards of offense in the third quarter and nine in the fourth, a remarkable turnaround after being torched for 323 yards in the opening half.
Pyne was routinely under pressure — he was sacked three times in the second half, and Navy’s defense line refused to give the Irish running backs anything to work with. On offense, meanwhile, the Midshipmen scored 19 points to mount a furious late comeback, including a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left in the game. Yet Notre Dame’s defense bent but didn’t break, and despite the abysmal offensive performance in the second half, Pyne’s play in the first half was enough to carry the Irish to a win.
Contact Liam Coolican at [email protected].