Skip to content

Navy Nailbiters

Nov 3, 2013, 5:12 PM EST

AP Photo/Joe Raymond

Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

From 1964 to 2006, Notre Dame never lost to Navy. I grew up assuming each game would be a victory, and with our talent advantage, why shouldn’t it be? But then 2007 happened, and 2009, and 2010.

Thankfully yesterday was victory #47 in the last 50 years. Despite trailing in the fourth quarter, Irish fans were so sure of victory that they stopped watching to do the wave. Sure enough, Notre Dame rallied for a 38-34 win.

That got me wondering, how often does Notre Dame beat Navy by less than a touchdown?

Well, since 1964, it’s only happened eight times (six since 1997). Ara and Lou never beat Navy by fewer than eight points, Devine did once in 1976, Faust did in 1984, Davie in ’97 and ’99, Willingham in ’02 and ’03, Weis in ’08, and Kelly now in ’13. Let’s take a look at some of the Navy nailbiter victories over the years:

1976:

This was the best team to win a close one over the Midshipmen. Devine’s squad finished 9-3 with a final ranking at No. 12.

Playing at a neutral site in Cleveland, the Irish fell behind 14-3, but Dan Kelleher caught a 58-yard touchdown pass from Rick Slager, and future All-American Luther Bradley had an interception.  After taking a 24-14 halftime lead, Notre Dame held on for a 27-21 win.

1984:

Coming off a 30-22 victory over sixth-ranked LSU (on the road no less), Faust found himself in trouble against the Midshipmen. This might have been the closest the Irish came to losing in their 43-game win streak.

However, they overcame six turnovers – including four interceptions by Steve Beuerlein – and rode Allen Pinkett (37 carries for 169 yards) to a come-from-behind victory.

Down 17-7 with four minutes left, Beuerlein led Notre Dame 83 yards in less than two minutes. Pinkett’s score and a two-point conversion cut the lead to two.

A Midshipmen three-and-out gave the Irish a shot at their own 18-yard line with a minute to go. Once again Beuerlein drove the offense down the field, setting up a 44-yard field goal with 18 seconds left.

John Carney’s field goal won the game, but Navy coach Gary Tranquill was adamant that the play clock had expired. Oh well. Notre Dame would go on to a 7-5 finish that year.

1997:

I know I said 1984 might have been the closest win during the streak, but 1997 deserves special mention. Navy outgained Bob Davie’s Irish 399-283 and led 17-14 in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame faced a 4th and 10 from their own 32 on its last drive. Ron Powlus completed a 14-yard pass to Bobby Brown, and Autry Denson eventually scored to cap off the 93-yard touchdown drive.

With three seconds left, Navy had one more shot at their own 29-yard line. And then this happened. Notre Dame won their 34th straight against the Midshipmen and would end the year at 7-6.

1999:

Another controversial game, another Irish victory. Once again Bobby Brown caught a first-down pass on 4th and 10 with the Irish trailing 24-21. Since I was 6 years old, I don’t remember, but it sounds like Navy fans were none too happy about the spot on the play. The Irish were given a first down with 1:20 remaining, and would score the game winner on a 16-yard connection from Jarious Jackson to Jay Johnson.

My favorite part of this game when I was researching it was this line from the Observer: “Suddenly the days of false checking, last minute losses, poor clock management and calling for the immediate resignation of Bob Davie seem far removed.” Notre Dame would go on to lose their last four games and finish 5-7.

2002:

Coming off an upset loss to Boston College that brought them to 8-1, the Irish again came from behind to knock off Navy. Down 23-15 in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame faced a four-touchdown underdog that was without its starting quarterback. Navy was 1-7 at the time.

Carlyle Holiday completed a 39-yard pass to Omar Jenkins to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Rashon Powers-Neal with 4:28 left in the game. A reception by Arnaz Battle on the conversion tied the game.

Holiday and Jenkins had another big connection to get the game-winner with 2:08 to go. The 67-yard reception capped off a 166-yard day for the receiver. After the 30-23 victory, Notre Dame finished the year 10-3 with a final ranking of 17.

2003:

Julius Jones hit the 200-yard mark for the second time in 2003, gaining 221 with two touchdowns. But the Irish needed a last-second 40-yard field goal from D.J. Fitzpatrick to down Navy 27-24.

Notre Dame overcame yet another fourth-quarter deficit after Navy took the lead 24-21 with under 10 to go. But with the help of Jones and Fitzpatrick, two more field goals were enough. Notre Dame outgained Navy 417-284 in the game, and besides Jones’ scores, Brady Quinn and Rhema McKnight connected on a two-yard touchdown pass.

This game makes four times in seven years that the Irish came back from a fourth-quarter deficit against the Midshipmen, bringing the win streak to 40. However, Notre Dame closed the season with a 5-7 record.

2008:

Unlike all the other close wins against Navy, this one didn’t require an Irish comeback. But the Midshipmen rally was furious and bizarre, nearly overcoming a 20-point deficit with under two to go.

A year after the streak ended, the Irish were cruising 27-7. Navy took over with 2:30 to go, and went 57 yards in 51 seconds. 27-14 with 1:39 to go.

After a recovered onside kick, Navy drove 41 yards in 18 seconds to set up a Ricky Dobbs touchdown. 27-21 with 1:21 to go.

Navy recovered another onside kick, setting up their offense at the Notre Dame 41. But the Midshipmen could only muster one first down and turned the ball over on downs with 22 seconds left, sealing the Notre Dame victory.

This series has had some crazy finishes (did you watch that clip from 1997?), but giving up two onside kicks has to be up there. Notre Dame would finish 7-6 on the year.

With all these endings, it’s surprising that it took Navy 43 games to end the streak. While I’m not happy about those losses in ’07, ’09, and ’10, I’m glad it doesn’t loom over every close game anymore.

About Strong and True

Welcome to Strong and True, the official blog providing in-depth and exclusive access to Notre Dame football. With features, videos, photos, commentaries and news from inside the program, we are committed to bringing you coverage of the Fighting Irish unlike any you can find elsewhere.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

ND Football on YouTube