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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Irish defense holds Navy for win on Senior Day

The Irish faced a unique opponent in the Midshipmen on Saturday. On top of that, the weather was less than ideal, with steady rain and cold winds prevailing throughout the game.

After both teams failed to score on their opening drives, the Irish (9-2) would pick things up at their own 32-yard line, where junior running back Josh Adams led the offense on the ground. On the second play of the drive, Adams rushed for four yards and became the sixth running back in Notre Dame history to eclipse 3,000 rushing yards. The Irish advanced into the red zone, but they were unable to get in the endzone. Facing fourth-and-nine, the Irish called on junior kicker Justin Yoon, who nailed the 29-yard field goal to put the Irish up by three with five minutes remaining in the first quarter.

On its next drive, Navy (6-4, 4-3 AAC) drove down the field for over seven minutes, but was forced to settle for a field goal.

Both teams would trade punts as the second quarter reached the halfway point. Navy continued to go with the option, keeping the ball on the ground in the hands of junior quarterback Zach Abey and junior fullback Anthony Gargiulo. After 11 plays lasting about just over five minutes, Abey rushed for a one-yard touchdown with 1:08 remaining in the half.

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer
Irish sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr. rushes with the ball during Notre Dame's 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

With little time to waste, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush and the offense risked going into halftime trailing.

Wimbush completed a 23-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, followed by a 28-yard completion to sophomore receiver Chase Claypool, which put the Irish in the red zone. With eight seconds remaining in the half, Wimbush held the ball and rushed two yards into the end zone to tie the game as Notre Dame headed into the locker room.

The score before half proved essential to the momentum of the Irish in the second half. Graduate student offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey noted the importance of the team’s final drive before halftime.

“It was huge,” McGlinchey said. “We were pretty upset with ourselves, not having scored before that. It gave us a big boost going into halftime. We had a great drive there … Great execution, great job by our quarterback, Brandon, and our receivers making plays, and we protected pretty well on that drive so it was huge for us.”

Navy continued its time-consuming option attack at the start of the second half. After Garguilo rushed for 19 yards and caught a 21-yard completion, the Midshipmen were back in the red zone. With 7:01 remaining in the third quarter, Abey connected with senior wide receiver Craig Scott for a 12-yard touchdown which put Navy ahead 17-10. The drive ate 7:59 off the clock, as the Midshipmen’s time of possession outweighed that of the Irish by over 25 minutes in total.

“I think in a game like this you don’t worry about rhythm, you worry about being efficient and being effective with the possessions that you have,” Adams said. “ ... Whatever chance I get to contribute I have to take advantage of that because you just never know with a great team like Navy the way they control the ball and control time of possession when you’re going to get out there. Each and every moment you have to take advantage of your time out there.”

The Irish responded swiftly. Led by Adams on the ground, the Irish advanced to the Navy 28-yard line on their next drive. Nearing the red zone, Wimbush connected with Stepherson for a 30-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17 with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter. It was Stepherson’s first of two touchdowns on the day.

Wimbush said having Stepherson back has been a huge advantage for the Irish offense.

“It definitely means a lot and you see from the results that he is a huge factor now in our offense and he just adds to the already dynamic receiving corps,” Wimbush said. ”And he’s been with us since January and in the process of rebuilding this program and we turned this thing around. So I think he did a good job of all the way through to when he was able to get back on the field of preparing himself and being ready for this opportunity.”

Navy went on the advance into Notre Dame’s territory on its next drive. But, after being stopped on third down, it was forced to attempt a 37-yard field goal, which sophomore kicker Owen White missed wide, giving the Irish a chance to take the lead.

Heading into the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17, Notre Dame looked to capitalize on Navy’s failed field goal attempt. The offense came out strong again as it had on its last drive. Wimbush led the Irish into Navy territory, where he completed a pass to Stepherson once again for 28 yards. On the next play, Wimbush connected with Stepherson for a nine-yard touchdown, which put the Irish ahead by seven. The score was thanks, in large part, to the strong rushing of Adams in the series.

Wimbush noted the advantages that Adams’ running game offered the passing game.

“Yeah, obviously it’s no secret that the running game has definitely opened up a lot of things for us this season, and I think Josh — he came out in the second half, and he saw a little bit more, holes were opening up and he did have a more effective second half running the ball,” Wimbush said.

Members of the Notre Dame defense tackle junior Navy quarterback Zach Abey during Notre Dame's 24-17 win over the Midshipmen on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Navy looked to answer the Irish score on its next drive and the Midshipmen slowly made their way to midfield. Their march forward was halted, however, by sophomore cornerback Troy Pride Jr., who intercepted a pass from Abey and was taken down at the 14-yard line. Notre Dame went three-and-out on its drive after the interception, giving Navy 5:33 to send the game into overtime.

Navy’s offense collected on the 25-yard line, with one last chance to extend the game. It continued to advance, eventually finding itself at the Notre Dame 25-yard line with 1:28 remaining in the game. After calling for a time out, the Midshipmen came out on fourth down with a chance to make a statement.

The Irish tried for a trick play with senior slotback Darryl Bonner attempting the pass. But Bonner was pressured and let go of the ball sooner than he wanted to, resulting in an incompletion and a turnover on downs.

Senior linebacker Drue Tranquill commented on the intensity of the atmosphere on defense, as Navy attempted to send the game into overtime on their last drive.

“I just remember, I was exhausted out there,” Tranquill said. “They had the ball for over 40 minutes, and I could just feel the fatigue there on the last drive. I was reminded of all the training that we’ve gone through, all the training in the offseason, all those states of fatigue. I was just looking at the guys, and they just had the eye of the tiger. I knew someone was going to come up with a big play, and we would be able to get them in an unfavorable down to where they had to throw the ball and do what they don’t like to do.”

As the game came to a close and the Irish headed toward the student section, it was clear that emotions were high, especially for those who were playing their last game at Notre Dame Stadium.

“It was very emotional. It’s a little saddening, to play your last game at Notre Dame Stadium,” McGlinchey said. “I love this place, and I’m just happy we got out of there with a win. It means the world to me to have been able to play here and build the relationships I have with our guys. I’m so lucky.”

The Irish defense played exceptionally well, managing to contain a unique offensive. Senior linebacker Greer Martini has proved to be a menace for the Navy offense the past few years. He excelled against the option again tonight, recording 15 tackles, four more than his former career high.

“[Navy head coach] Ken Niumatalolo asked me if he was a senior, and he hoped that he would not be back next year,” Kelly said. “He’s tried to block him, he can’t block him, he was our player of the game, he got the game ball … He was physical, he played with the top of his pads. I mean it was a clinic in terms of the way he played the linebacker position today.”

Kelly said he was pleased with his squad’s hard-fought performance.

“The take-away is our kids played really hard, they really cared about their teammates and wanting to win this football game,” Kelly said. “I loved the way they kept fighting and we may not have won this game last year.”