Midshipmen Lose Game, and Quarterback, to #10 Notre Dame
by Diane Roberts
The U.S. Naval Academy football team was on the road in week ten for their 94th meeting with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, two of the winningest FBS teams in college football history, and history was on the side of the Fighting Irish as they beat the Midshipmen for the fourth straight time in the series 34-6.
Navy hopped on the board first in the game, eating up half a quarter on their second possession, but ended up settling for a Bijan Nichols field goal with 3:03 left in the opening frame. It turned out to be a harbinger of how tough it would be to score against the Notre Dame defense.
The Midshipmen's defense kept it tight, keeping the game tied at three apiece, until the middle of the second quarter when the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish began to pull away.
A touchdown with less than three minutes left in the first half, followed by a Jack Coan-to-Kevin Austin, Jr. 70-yard bomb with 0:50 on the clock put Notre Dame up 17-3 at the half.
"You know that shouldn't happen," Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the game, "it's third and forever, you know what I mean, and that was a back breaker."
What also hurt was the loss of starting quarterback Tai Lavatai, who left the game with a neck injury after a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Navy had the ballot start the second half and showed promise with a 14-play, 71-yard, 9:44 drive to the redzone, led by sophomore back-up QB Xavier Arline, but again only came away with three points.
There were questions as to why Niumatalolo didn't go for seven.
"If we're going to eat so much clock we have to finish with a touchdown," Arline said, "We never go into practice and say, 'You know, we're going to get this field goal,' you're always going for touchdowns. We just gotta find the file where we're shooting ourselves in the foot and do a better job executing it."
Navy's offense could never catch up to the best the defense had to offer. The two field goals were all the points Navy could muster against a top-10 team flexing its muscles. Notre Dame scored three times in the second half and Niumatalolo noted that his defense was just getting worn down.
"We have to play better," Niumatalolo said, "and when you play a team like this -- played them many times -- can't make mistakes. You've got to be perfect, just because of disparity, you know, and size and things like that. But you know we didn't play well enough and we didn't coach well enough today."
"Just a couple of missed assignments," Navy striker John Marshall said post-game, "and those ended up, you know, we have a small margin of error and you can't let those things happen."
We've played, you know, four top-25 teams [this season]," Arline noted, "so it's nothing new, but you can't shoot yourself in the foot against any team, but especially teams like this."
While the game ended with a loss for Navy, the respect between the two teams was evident on the field.
"But at the end it's just two schools with great history among themselves," Niumatalolo said, "between the two and that's exhibited by the camaraderie at the end."
The Notre Dame-Navy rivalry is among the longest in college football. It actually dates back to 1927, and the streak of consecutive games played was interrupted only once, in 2020, because of the pandemic.
Navy has a bye week after the loss to Notre Dame, more time to stew about the defeat, before returning to Annapolis for their final home game of the season: a conference match-up against East Carolina.
edited for web by Joe Harman