JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When Brian Kelly said Notre Dame needed to score every time it had the ball on Saturday, he wasn’t joking.
Not even a little bit.
For the first time in five years, Navy beat Notre Dame, 28-27. The Fighting Irish (3-6) had a season-low six total possessions. If they don’t win the rest of its games against Army, Virginia Tech and USC, then Notre Dame will not make a bowl.
It was a back-and-forth game. Notre Dame’s defense made stops when it needed to, but in order to truly stop Navy’s clock-eating triple option attack, the offense would need to strictly follow Kelly’s orders and score touchdowns — not field goals — on every drive.
That didn’t happen.
It started that way though. On Notre Dame’s opening drive, quarterback DeShone Kizer hit Torii Hunter Jr. four times, including a 23-yard fourth down conversion and 24-yard touchdown pass. But as expected, Navy’s ground game responded immediately with a nine-play, 73-yard scoring drive to even things up.
On the next drive, Hunter left the game — albeit briefly — with a left knee injury. He only missed one possession, but at that moment he’d had five receptions for 77 yards and the connection between him and Kizer was strong. He finished the day with eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
On Notre Dame’s next scoring opportunity, it settled for a field goal. Navy responded with quarterback Will Worth exploding for a 60-yard run, which set up a lead-changing score seven plays later.
Navy truly gained its confidence at the start of the second half though, scoring a touchdown on every single possession except for the last, when it just ran the clock out to clinch the victory. It started with a dominant opening drive in which the Mids had runs of 12- and 17-yards, plus a 37-yard touchdown run by Calvin Cass that gave them a 21-17 lead.
Notre Dame’s offense made a few more big-time plays, including a 13-yard flipping-into-the-end zone touchdown by Equanimous St. Brown—just like he did against Texas—that gave his team the lead back, but that would be the last time the Irish found the end zone.
Navy finished the game with a 14-play, 7:28-minute drive and Notre Dame never got the ball back.