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‘One thing we know about Navy is that they will never quit’: Irish hold on 35-32, despite aggressive Navy comeback attempt 

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, No. 20 Notre Dame met Navy for their 95th time. Naval festivities welcomed the 62,124 fans to M&T Bank Stadium, as a Midshipmen procession, fighter jet flyover and parachute display occurred before play commenced. The Irish have had a history of victories against Navy, with the Midshipmen only winning 13 of the 94 (now 95) previous meetings. Notre Dame was able to extend their four-year win streak, though their offensive dominance in the first half quickly crumbled in the second. It was as though there were two different Notre Dame offenses playing between the first and the second halves, but nonetheless it was just enough for a win. 

Pyne dominates first half, points abound for the Irish (35-13)

After Navy won the coin toss and deferred, Notre Dame started off with the ball and junior quarterback Drew Pyne came in hot. The first quarter saw a stellar performance by Pyne and the rest of the offense. On the first drive of the game alone, Pyne completed for 58 yards, over half of the 85 yards he threw throughout the entirety of the Clemson game last week. By the end of the first half, Pyne had more than quadrupled that number, coming in at 234 passing yards. 

Pyne had some nice looks to the outside in order to get the Irish on the board early. A 30-yard pass completed to wide open sophomore running back Audric Estime gave the Irish their first touchdown early in the game. On Notre Dame’s next possession, sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy received Pyne’s 38 yard catch in a snag behind his defender’s back to grant the Irish another touchdown. The crowd went wild for this catch of the year contender. 

However, Navy had something to say about this 14-0 score. Fullback Daba Fofana snuck in a touchdown for the Midshipmen in the final minutes of the first quarter to bring the game to 14-6 after a missed extra point. A touchdown run at the beginning of the second quarter by Navy quarterback Xavier Arline made it 21-13. It is obvious Notre Dame missed senior J.D. Bertrand, who missed the game with an injury, as gaps in the defense allowed Navy to show some ownership of the run game throughout the second quarter. That is, until junior cornerback Clarence Lewis had something to say about it. 

A crucial midfield interception by Lewis in the final three minutes of the second quarter changed the tide for the Irish, and was arguably the kiss of death for the Midshipmen. The Irish went to work quickly, and a big run from Estime allowed Pyne to run it in for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 28-13. Momentum continued, and a blocked punt by Jack Kiser marked the fifth straight game that the Irish have blocked a punt. In addition, this was the first blocked punt against Navy since their season opener against Marshall last year. 

In yet another touchdown play, a stellar 37 yard catch by wide receiver Jayden Thomas in the final minute of the second quarter brought the Irish to 24-13. Though it was less than three minutes on the clock, the Irish were able to get some serious work done, and spirits were high heading into the second half with a 35-13 advantage. 

Slow play in quarter three leads to crumbling Irish performance in the fourth (35-32)

The second half play got off to a slow start with the Midshipmen draining 10 minutes off the clock in a 16 play, 72 yard drive. Though missed tackles and penalties abounded for the Irish and allowed the Midshipmen to keep moving, Navy eventually settled for a field goal. The kick was good to bring the score to Notre Dame 35, Navy 16. The Irish appeared to have lost steam as they only gained three yards in the third quarter. On the other side of things, Navy was attempting an aggressive comeback. Head coach Marcus Freeman commented on Navy’s resiliency. 

“One thing we know about Navy is that they will never quit,” Freeman said. 

And quit they did not. Any of the sluggishness in the third quarter was made up right away by the Midshipmen right in the final period. Pyne’s first pass of the quarter was intercepted by Navy’s John Marshall, and Arline quickly passed it up the middle for a touchdown. After a successful two point conversion, the score rose to 35-24. Pyne two plays apart as Notre Dame’s drive sputtered. Later, Pyne was sacked again as he was under constant pressure in the second half.  

The Irish offense generated next to nothing in the second half, as they only gained a total of 12 yards in its entirety. Injury of Navy’s quarterback Xavier Arline brought in backup quarterback Maasai Maynor to the stage. This did not seem to particularly hinder Navy, as the Midshipmen were able to make some plays downfield and eventually amass a touchdown in the final minute of the game. A successful two-point conversion brought the Midshipmen dangerously close with a score of 35-32. Nevertheless, the Irish fell on the Navy onside kick to seal up the game. Freeman commented on the lack of urgency present among the Irish in the second half. 

“We had to match [Navy’s] urgency throughout the entirety of the game. We did it in the first half, but we did not have the urgency or execution in the second,” Freeman said.

Continuing a longstanding tradition, the Notre Dame and Navy alma maters rang out as Irish and Midshipmen players stood alongside one another in solidarity. Junior linebacker Prince Kollie described it as “a great thing to see” and a moment that he cherishes. 

With a final score of 35-32, Notre Dame leaves Baltimore victorious, but with lots to review. The Irish ended the game with 269 passing and 66 rush yards, for a total of 335. Navy edged them out at 363, on 108 pass and 255 rush. The Irish move down their docket of rivalry matchups as they face Boston College next week.

“We’ve got to a point now where we can win these close games, and we are going to be better because of it. It’s going to be a hungry group as we head into our last home game,” Freeman said.

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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