Saturday, November 18, 2017

No. 8 Notre Dame 24, Navy 17: Irish keep New Year's Six hopes alive

                                         Photo Credit: Matt Cashore- USA TODAY Sports

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

South Bend, Ind.— In a rain-soaked senior day game, the No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-2) went to battle against the Navy Midshipmen.  The Irish came from behind to secure a 24-17 victory in their final home game of the season. With the win, the Notre Dame remains in the hunt for a New Year’s Six bowl game with No. 22 Stanford looming on the road on Nov. 25.

“Welcome to Midwest football in November. That’s what it’s like. Good, gritty, tough football. Our guys got that close win that everyone’s been waiting for, so we checked that box,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Games that require just a grittiness to them and a toughness and a resolve. If you want to go see 62-52, go to your local Big 12 network.”

The Midshipmen dominated the Irish in the time of possession battle— 42:42 to 17:18. The Midshipmen used their triple-option attack to control the clock. Navy also converted 4-of-6 on their fourth down attempts. Navy rushed for 277 yards, but completed eight pass attempts for 41 yards.

Up until the last two minutes of the second quarter, all of the scoring was provided by the kickers.  Justin Yoon hit a 29-yard field goal to get Notre Dame on the board first. Owen White split the uprights from 39 yards out on first career field goal attempt for the Midshipmen.

Zach Abey managed to get into the end zone from one yard out in the second quarter to give Navy a 10-3 lead over the Irish.

In the closing seconds of the second quarter, Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush snuck in from two yards out and tied the game before halftime.

Navy took a 17-10 lead over Notre Dame in the third quarter when Abey connected with Craig Scott on a 12 yard touchdown. 

Defensively for the Irish, Greer Martini and Julian Love combined for 29 tackles and closed the gaps on Navy’s option offense.

“Ken Niumatalolo asked me if he was a senior, and he hoped that he would not be back next year. He's tried to block him, he can't block him, he was our player of the game, he got the game ball,” Kelly said on Greer Martini’s dominant performance. “He just has a really good nose for the football, good sense, but I think what you saw today was the physicality and bending back on the full back. He was physical, he played with the top of his pads.”

In the second half, Kevin Stepherson hauled in two touchdown passes from Brandon Wimbush to help lift the Irish offense.  The touchdowns were Stepherson’s third and fourth touchdown catches of the season.  Stepherson finished the game with a career high 103 receiving yards. Wimbush threw for 164 yards, completing nine passes on 18 attempts.

"We felt like if we could get him on some drive routes underneath, that he could run and catch,” Kelly said. “He was that for us today, as well as run the football, get those safeties down, and let's get Kevin over the top, and we were able to do this as well. So he's a featured player.” 

The Irish travel to the Bay Area to take on the Cardinal next Saturday, while the Midshipmen wrap up conference play on Black Friday at the Houston Cougars.