Notre Dame sinks Navy in final seconds
By TIM CASEY
As Jarious Jackson rolled to his left with 40 seconds left in Saturday's game against Navy, flashes of the Sept. 11 Purdue game arose in the minds of the Irish faithful.
But, on Saturday, instead of a false check that confused the offense and led to defeat, Jackson continued left, set his feet, read the defense and lofted a 10-yard completion to his third option, Jay Johnson. Johnson caught it on the left sideline, eluded Navy's Davede Alexander at the 1-yard line and dragged Bas Williams into the end zone for a 28-24 lead.
"He [Jackson] had it tucked under his arm and looked like he was going to run the ball," offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said of the clinching touchdown. "It seemed like it [the ball] hung up there forever. But they broke their coverage and we made the play."
Besides Jackson and Johnson, the Irish can thank the officiating crew from the Atlantic Coast Conference for putting them in position to win the game. On 3rd and 1 with 1:35 left in the game, instead of running between the tackles for a first down, the Irish coaches called a pass play. But when Jackson rolled right, a swarm of defenders knocked him to the ground for a nine-yard loss.
"It was the same play I called against Michigan and it went for a touchdown,'' Rogers said. "I didn't get the defense I hoped I'd get. They played it with four defensive backs. We didn't have very good options. We had a run-through linebacker we didn't block.''
Facing 4th and 10 with no timeouts remaining, the Irish were down to their final opportunity. Showing once again his knack for the dramatic, Jackson found Bobby Brown open for a 10-yard gain. After making the catch, Brown intuitively lunged toward the first down marker.
With the 80,012 fans in a sold-out Notre Dame Stadium silenced, wondering if they were going to be denied again like against Michigan earlier in the season, the chains were brought out onto the field.
First down, Notre Dame. By a centimeter.
"I was right there and knew it was close," Navy safety Chris Lepore said, who had a game-high 16 tackles. "They got it by a centimeter. It was the closest measurement I've ever seen in my life."
"Call it the luck of the Irish," Lepore added. "It just makes it all the tougher to swallow."
In a day that saw them get flagged for 13 penalties, commit three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble), and get a pair of kicks blocked, the Irish needed all the luck they could get.
Notre Dame built a 14-0 first half lead on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Bobby Brown and 1-yard touchdown run by Terrance Howard midway through the second quarter.
Navy wasn't about to quit.
Following the second Irish touchdown, Brian Madden, making his first start at quarterback, drove the Midshipmen down the field. Madden, who rushed for a game-high 168 yards, capped the 67-yard drive with an option keeper for an 11-yard touchdown
Navy tied the score at 14 when Lepore blocked a punt attempt by Joey Hildbold. Chris Oliver recovered the ball in the end zone for the score.
"Deke [Cooper] is responsible for the second guy on the outside," Davie said regarding the punt block. "He said the third guy came over and really grabbed him and turned his shoulders. That kept him from blocking the second guy."
Alexander's 20-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:01 left in the third gave the Midshipmen their first lead of the game. But on the very next possession, Jackson knotted the game.
Jackson ran an option left, kept the ball, cut back to the right and outran the Navy defense for a 57-yard touchdown, the longest run of his career.
Tim Shubzda's 33-yard field goal gave the Midshipmen a 24-21 lead with six minutes remaining in the game.
But then the JJ connection gave the Irish their fourth-straight victory on the season and their 36th win in a row against the Midshipmen, an NCAA record.
Navy had one last chance at the end as Madden attempted a Hail Mary pass with seven seconds remaining. But the pass was broken up at the 18-yard line. The Irish escaped with a victory.
"I told our team before the game, at halftime and all week that we just had to find a way to beat Navy," Davie said. "I feel very fortunate to win. But you've got to give our kids credit."
Suddenly the days of false checking, last minute losses, poor clock management and calling for the immediate resignation of Bob Davie seem far removed. A 4-0 October has put the Irish back into bowl considerations, possibly even the Jan.1 Gator Bowl.
Before they can look ahead, the Irish must focus on next week and a date with defending national champion Tennessee in front of over 100,000 fans in Knoxville.
"When we were at 1-3 we said one thing," Davie said. "However we had to do it, let's try to get to 5-3 and let's go play a big-time football game down in Knoxville."
All Sports Stories for Monday, November 1, 1999