Navy Midshipmen running back Demond Brown (25) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Dan Fox (48) and cornerback Bennett Jackson (2) on Nov. 2 at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-34. (Matt Cashore / USA Today)
SOUTH BEND, IND. — It looked as if Navy had Notre Dame right where the Midshipmen wanted.
Navy was in Notre Dame territory with time ticking away in the fourth and the Irish having little success stopping the Middies’ triple-option offense.
But a bad pitch and a fourth-down play that looked good for a moment but then was shut down by the Irish left Navy with a 38-34 loss on Saturday.
Notre Dame went ahead 38-34 with 3:47 left in the game when Tarean Folston scored on a 1-yard plunge.
Marcus Turner returned the kickoff 49 yards to the 50 for Navy, which had all three timeouts. Navy ran the ball four straight plays for 18 yards and had it second-and-5 from the Notre Dame 32.
“It’s a scenario you want. On the road at Notre Dame, driving to win the game. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds said. “It’s a dream come true.”
But Reynolds, who had run for three touchdowns and thrown for another, tossed a pitch just out of reach of DeBrandon Sanders. Sanders fell on the ball at the 41 for a 9-yard loss. Reynolds completed a 10-yard pass to Casey Bolena to set up a fourth-and-four. Notre Dame freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith came up with a big play with help from Eilar Hardy.
Reynolds pitched the ball to Shawn Lynch on a reverse and for a moment it appeared he had room, but Smith quickly closed the gap and tackled Lynch for no gain.
“Luckily, Eilar was there to slow the guy down initially, and then I was there to make the play,” Smith said.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Navy was a step too slow on the play.
“We were maybe a step too slow on our mechanics of it,” he said. “Normally it should have been a fraction of a second sooner.”
The Midshipmen ran for 331 yards, 207 in the first half. Navy had no turnovers, no penalties and held the ball for 37:36 while the Irish had it just 22:24.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the Irish were fortunate to pull out the victory.
“They executed flawlessly today,” Kelly said. “They really put us in a position where we had to play great in the second half.”
Kelly said he wasn’t disappointed in the win.
“There’s no asterisk next to this one. This is a W. We’re excited about it,” he said.
Notre Dame (7-2) improved to 11-1 in November in four seasons under Kelly and clinched its fourth consecutive winning season, the first time that’s happened since 1995-98. The Irish also keep alive their hopes for a BCS bowl berth. Navy lost for the third time in the past four games.
Notre Dame has won its past 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, tying Kelly with Knute Rockne for the second-longest such streak in school history. Elmer Layden holds the record with 12.
The bright spot for Notre Dame was the play of freshman running back Tarean Folston, who scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard plunge and rushed for 144 yards on 18 carries, with 116 yards in the second half. He had rushed for only 116 yards on 22 carries before Saturday.
“There was just a big mess, so I just jumped over,” Folston said of his TD run.
Notre Dame finished with 506 yards total offense, averaging 9 yards per play, the most for the Irish since 1998. Tommy Rees threw touchdown passes to TJ Jones and Ben Koyack, George Atkinson III scored on a 41-yard run and Cam McDaniel added a TD. Rees was 12-of-20 passing for 242 yards with two interceptions. It was the third time this season Rees has thrown at least two interceptions. The Irish lost the other two against Michigan and against Oklahoma.
Reynolds completed six of nine passes for 88 yards, including two key passes that gave Navy its final lead. First he threw an 18-yard pass to Marcus Thomas to the Notre Dame 49. After three running plays, Reynolds then found a wide open Matt Aiken for a 34-yard score.
The Midshipmen finished with 419 yards total offense and had 27 first downs, the most ever by a Navy team against Notre dame.
“Coach put together a brilliant game plan. We were able to execute it on the field and move the ball,” Reynolds said
Chris Swain led Navy with 85 yards Quinton Singleton had 77 yards.
Swain said he thought the reverse play would work.
“We were just so close,” he said. “I thought it was going to go for a touchdown. I wasn’t thinking they were expecting it.”