Nov 8, 2003
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame has struggled so much this season that even a victory over Navy is cause for celebration.
D.J. Fitzpatrick kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give Notre Dame a 27-24 victory Saturday, extending the Irish’s NCAA record for consecutive wins against one team to 40.
“I hope the celebration is just getting going,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said. “We’ve been needing to get back into the winner’s circle to get that feeling again, and now we can build on that into the next weekend.”
The Irish (3-6) haven’t had much to celebrate this season after getting off to their worst start since 1963. But the win keeps alive Notre Dame’s hopes for finishing the season at .500. It also ended a three-game home losing streak – just the fifth such streak in school history – and avoided tying the school record of four straight home loses set in 1960.
Kyle Eckel scored on runs of 1 and 5 yards in the second half to give Navy (6-4) a chance at the upset, but the Midshipmen came up short just as they did last year and in 1999 and 1997.
I hope the celebration is just getting going.Head coach Tyrone Willingham
“We felt like we had it won the whole game,” Navy linebacker Eddie Carthan said. “We should have had it won. Every time they scored we scored right back.”
Navy called timeout twice to try to freeze Fitzpatrick, but he made the kick even though safety Josh Smith said he got a hand on it.
“I got three fingers on it,” Smith said. “I thought I had it when I tipped it. I didn’t get all of it.”
Fitzpatrick said he didn’t see Smith deflect it.
“But I was confused because I hit it well but the ball was fluttering,” he said.
For Jones it was the fourth straight 100-yard rushing game against Navy. His best run of the day came on a 48-yard run around the right end in the first quarter to open the scoring. He also scored on a 12-yard run late in the third quarter to give the Irish a 21-17 lead.
“He’s a good running back, but we had a lot of stops in the backfield,” Carthan said. “We did not wrap up. He did not kill us as far as that; we killed ourselves.”
Jones became just the fourth Irish back to run for 200 yards twice in one season.
“We had a hard time stopping them when they ran the football,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “They are so much bigger and more physical than we are. We had a lot of guys up there, but at times we just couldn’t get them stopped.”
Tony Lane, who had a 65-yard TD run, led Navy with 92 yards on 18 carries. Quinn was 14-of-27 passing for 137 yards for the Irish, who had 417 yards total offense to just 284 for Navy.
Johnson defended his decision to punt the ball away on fourth-and-5 from the Notre Dame 47-yard line with just over two minutes left.
“I felt like if we pinned them down their deep – we had held them a couple of times down there – if you hold them back, we have the wind. Who knows? We may get the ball on the right side of the field and you just need to make a first down or two to be kicking a field goal.
“We go for it there and don’t make, they just need a few first downs,” he said.
The Irish have dominated the series, but have had a number of close calls the past six years. The closest came in 1997 when Irish cornerback Allen Rossum shoved Pat McGrew out of bounds on the 1-yard line on the final play of game as Notre Dame won 21-17. Four years ago the Irish got a favorable spot by officials on fourth-and-10 to keep the game-winning drive alive by an inch or so. The Irish scored 10 points in the final 4:23 to pull out a 30-23 victory last season.
“At some point Navy will play better than Notre Dame and win the football game, but you just tell your team it doesn’t have to be this year,” Willingham said.