SAN DIEGO — This one, at least, didn’t take many by surprise.
If Navy needs solace after this latest loss, its fifth in a row, the team can take some in the fact that, unlike those tough-but-winable games against SMU and Air Force and Temple and Houston, a win against No. 3 Notre Dame seemed near impossible. Navy has beaten a top-five ranked Fighting Irish team only twice in 92 meetings, in 1944 and 1957. In 2018, with its hapless offense and helpless defense, the Mids were hardly primed for a generational upset.
Even so, the lack of first-half competition from the Midshipmen in their 44-22 loss to Notre Dame was dismal. Navy had fared well in the first halves of its past two games, but any modicum of rhythm it had fallen into was nonexistent under a cloudless sky Saturday and a 27-0 halftime deficit spelled doom.
The Fighting Irish (8-0) gained 584 yards of total offense to the Mids’ 346. Irish junior quarterback Ian Book completed 27 of 33 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception and shared the glory with running back Dexter Williams, (142 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries) and receiver Miles Boykin, who caught two touchdown passes and Jafar Armstrong, who ran for one score.
The Midshipmen (2-6) finally found the end zone in the third quarter. Short-yardage quarterback Zach Abey ran in for two scores and fullback Mike Martin had the other in the Mids’ best drive of the night. Starting quarterback Garret Lewis completed 4 of 11 passes for 52 yards and rushed for 13 yards on 11 carries.
But any doubt had long been removed by the time Navy found its groove.
The Mids started with a squandered opportunity and didn’t improve from there. Safety Sean Williams forced a fumble from Boykin on the Fighting Irish’s first play of the game, putting Navy on Notre Dame’s 36. The Mids turned the ball over on downs.
They punted on four straight possessions after that. Through their first four drives, two of which started in Fighting Irish territory, Navy amassed just 60 yards.
Notre Dame couldn’t have painted a more contrasting picture. If the Navy fans who clung to the glimmer of hope that the sold-out “home” crowd at SDCCU Stadium would provide some boost for their Mids — San Diego is a Navy town, after all, home to the largest naval fleet in the world, and Saturday was the series’ first visit to California — they needed only to hear the overwhelming roar from the Irish faithful who traveled for the contest before the game.
It was loud enough to remind that the Irish are well worth traveling for this year, more than they have been since at least 2012, the last time they were 8-0.
They provided their fans more than enough reason to cheer, taking whatever they wanted on offense and showing off their stars in the process. In those same first four drives that earned Navy just 60 yards, Notre Dame gained 170 and two touchdowns.
Armstrong made his triumphant return after missing three games with a knee infection with a two-yard score for the first touchdown of the evening that, for good measure, also included a 33-yard run from Williams.
Williams gracefully accepted the handoff after Armstrong’s reintroduction and rushed for Notre Dame’s next three touchdowns.
The Fighting Irish built a 27-0 first-half lead before Navy finally made a dent with a one-yard push into the end zone to open the third quarter following an old-school 58-yard sprint from former-quarterback-turned-slotback Malcolm Perry. The pair recalled the better days of 2017 for a moment as the crowd, many Notre Dame fans included, exploded. Navy’s tired defense even forced the Irish to settle for a field goal after that, and Abey added another short-yard touchdown on the next drive.
The Mids made things respectable, alternating scores with Notre Dame. Safety Jacob Springer gave them a chance to make more of an impression when he intercepted Book and ran 24 yards to the Fighting Irish’s 39 early in the fourth quarter.
This time, Navy didn’t scuttle away the opportunity. Fullback Mike Martin rushed 33 yards for a touchdown and Abey’s pass to O.J. Davis completed a two-point conversion to make it 37-22.
But the Mids’ resuscitation came too late, and all Notre Dame needed to do was keep its head down and score to win the game. Book dug deep and pulled out a gutsy scoring drive that had Navy’s defenders jumping up and down in frustration on the following possession. Facing a third and 10 from the Irish 38, he danced in space behind a solid offensive line for a long while before launching a 27-yard pass to Armstrong for a first down.
Two plays later, he threw a perfectly placed, 22-yard touchdown pass just over corner Jarid Ryan’s head to Boykin to make it 44-22. The Irish were in control, just as expected.