Oct. 16, 2004
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There’s no secret to Notre Dame’s 41-game winning streak against Navy.
The Fighting Irish are bigger, stronger and faster – and they showed it on Saturday.
Ryan Grant ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and Notre Dame had little trouble extending its NCAA-record winning streak against the Midshipmen with a 27-9 victory.
Navy (5-1) came in unbeaten with hopes of finally ending four decades of futility against the Irish. Adding to the optimism for the Midshipmen were their performances against Notre Dame the past two season. The Irish needed late-game heroics in both to extend the streak.
“We remember how close this game has been the last two years,” Notre Dame linebacker Mike Goolsby. “That was the thing coach (Greg) Mattison tried to get across to us this week. It doesn’t have to be close.”
The defensive line coach was right. Grant and Notre Dame’s dominant lines wrapped this one up early for the Irish (5-2).
Notre Dame needed two possessions to take a 14-0 lead.
“It kind of set the tone for the game and gave us confidence,” said quarterback Brady Quinn, who was 11-for-20 for 130 yards.
The Irish went into halftime up 17-0, having allowed Navy’s triple-option attack to break midfield at Giants Stadium just once.
The Midshipmen got their ground game going on the first drive of the second half, marching 81 yards without throwing a pass. But Navy stalled and settled for a field goal to make it 17-3.
Kyle Eckel finished with 102 yards on 22 rushes for Navy, but playing from behind just doesn’t suit the Midshipmen. Navy completed 3 of 6 passes for 44 yards.
“We’d have to have played mentally perfect to have a chance to win this game, and obviously we didn’t do that,” said quarterback Aaron Polanco, who was held to 19 yards on 24 carries.
Navy came in averaging 267 yards rushing, but led by defensive tackles Greg Pauly and Derek Landri, Notre Dame had six sacks and limited the Midshipmen to 216 yards rushing.
“We heard it all week,” Goolsby said. “It’s all about discipline.”
Added Pauly, “Everyone just took their assignment and stuck to them.”
“That score kind of put them on their heels. It was a momentum shift.”Ryan Grant
Navy’s only touchdown came on a late 5-yard run by Frank Divis.
Notre Dame showed off its version of power football on its first drive of the second half. The Irish went 73 yards on 13 plays throwing just two short passes. Grant, from nearby Nyack, N.Y., accounted for 64 yards on the drive – 55 on nine rushes. He skipped into the end zone from a yard out to make it 24-3 late in the third quarter.
“That score kind of put them on their heels. It was a momentum shift,” said Grant, who’s been limited by a hamstring injury this season.
“I feel better than I’ve felt. It’s getting better. This is the most work I’ve done in a long time,” he said.
Grant carried the ball 20 times for his first 100-yard game in two years.
Roger Staubach directed the last Navy win over Notre Dame in 1963, his Heisman Trophy year. While there have been a few tight games since, this game was more typical of the series. During the streak, Notre Dame has won 34 times by double digits.
“It’s not like they’re beating Southern Cal 41 times in a row,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “They’re beating an academy.”
The next longest active winning streak between two teams is Nebraska’s 36 in a row over Kansas.
Notre Dame opened the game with an 81-yard drive that couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Quinn completed his first two throws for 37 yards and Marcus Wilson, a third-stringer from New York City, scored his first career touchdown on a 33-yard run through a huge opening.
Notre Dame’s second possession went much like the first, with Quinn hooking up with Matt Shelton for 30 yards to the Navy 20 and Grant handling the rest on the ground. The senior tailback went 19 yards off tackle, then bounced to the outside for a 1-yard run that made it 14-0.
Navy managed only 95 yards in the first half, all on the ground. Notre Dame balanced its attack with 110 on the ground and 116 through the air.
“It’s critically important when you play a team as skilled as they are to limit their options and to try and get ahead of them,” Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said.
The Fighting Irish added a 47-yard field goal by D.J. Fitzpatrick late in the first half and their annual win over Navy was all but secured.