- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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When Navy coach Paul Johnson addressed his football team Saturday morning, he told the Midshipmen they had to do three things to beat Notre Dame for the first time in 44 years.
"I told them, 'Believe you can win. Believe you can win. Believe you can win,'" Johnson said Sunday.
If the Midshipmen needed to be reminded of their 43-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish, the longest drought against one opponent in NCAA history, they got it when their team buses stopped at a toll booth outside South Bend, Ind., only hours before the game at Notre Dame Stadium.
A Fighting Irish fan in a car next to the buses rolled down his window and taunted the Midshipmen.
"This car pulled up beside us and this guy was hanging out the window, yelling, "Forty-four in a row! Forty-four in a row!" Johnson said. "I just started laughing. It was a grown man falling out of his window."
For more than four decades, the Notre Dame streak hung over the Navy program like a heavy fog over the academy from nearby Chesapeake Bay.
Navy hadn't beaten Notre Dame since Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 35-14 victory over the Fighting Irish in 1963.
Notre Dame had won every time since then, and each season Navy's players felt the weight of the entire brigade as they tried to end the losing streak.
"I think it hung over the alumni and other people more than the players in the program," Johnson said. "The thing about the streak was most of these guys, shoot, they weren't even born. They didn't care about 40 years ago. But they had to hear about it every time we played the game. Every year since I've been here, that was always the gist of every article. The way every interview started was about the streak."
Finally, Navy won't have to answer questions about losing to Notre Dame anymore. The Midshipmen ended their epic drought with a 46-44 victory over the Fighting Irish on Saturday. And Navy probably wouldn't have wanted to end it any other way.
The Midshipmen won in three overtimes and only after they were on the wrong end of a controversial pass-interference penalty on a two-point conversion attempt by the Fighting Irish. After Evan Sharpley's last pass fell incomplete near the goal line, Navy rushed the field to celebrate. But after the penalty flags flew, the Midshipmen had to return to the sideline and line up for another play.
"After everybody rushed the field, I saw the flags come out," Navy slot back Reggie Campbell said. "I knew it was pass interference. I was like, 'Oh, boy, here we go.' My heart just kind of dropped when I saw the flags. I thought we were going to have to go to another overtime."
But Navy defensive lineman Michael Walsh and linebacker Irv Spencer tackled running back Travis Thomas short of the end zone on the final play for the win.
The loss dropped Notre Dame's record to 1-8. With three games remaining, the Fighting Irish might be headed for the worst season in school history.
But Notre Dame's struggles don't diminish Navy's accomplishment. No matter how poorly the Irish are playing in coach Charlie Weis' third season, Notre Dame should always be favored against the Midshipmen.
Despite its recent struggles, Notre Dame still has the pick of the litter more times than not in recruiting. Conversely, the Midshipmen must find players who are academically fit to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and who also are willing to make a military commitment at a time when the country is at war.
"I don't think people fully realize the obstacles you face at the academies," Johnson said.
The Fighting Irish are supposed to be bigger, faster and stronger than the Midshipmen. Each of Notre Dame's five starting offensive linemen weighs more than 300 pounds. Navy doesn't have a 300-pounder starting on offense or defense. In fact, Irish offensive tackle Sam Young, a 6-foot-8, 310-pound sophomore, often blocked end Michael Walsh, a 239-pound junior.
"Notre Dame has struggled to win games, but they still have great athletes, and everybody still wants to go to Notre Dame if they have the opportunity," Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada said. "You have to respect them. They still have that great tradition and history."
By the time the Midshipmen returned to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., late Saturday night, they were greeted by most of the brigade for a celebration at Tecumseh Court. Capt. Margaret D. Klein, the academy commandant, canceled Monday's classes to honor the win.
"It was crazy," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "I got off the bus and was mobbed."
Johnson said beating Notre Dame is one of his program's biggest achievements, regardless of how the Fighting Irish finish the season. The Irish finished 2-7 in 1963, the last time Navy beat them.
"What was Notre Dame's record in 1963?" Johnson asked. "It wasn't very good, but nobody ever prefaces the articles with that record, do they? Any time Navy beats Notre Dame, it's a big deal. Anybody who watched the game could tell it's a big deal. Anybody that doesn't think Notre Dame has good players, they can come watch the film with me. They've got some really good players. I'll bet a lot of their players end up playing in the NFL."
And now Navy's streak is at one.
"I'm more excited for the players and the seniors," Johnson said. "They can take that with them and always say, 'We're the class that broke the streak.' They can take a little piece of history with them. It's a big deal to all the other guys who played here, whether it was the class of 1964 or whoever. They were the last class to beat Notre Dame and now it's this group."
On (and Off) the Mark
On the Mark
Ground-churning running backs. Arkansas' Darren McFadden (34 carries for 321 yards and one touchdown in a 48-36 win over South Carolina). East Carolina's Chris Johnson (20 carries for 301 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-40 victory at Memphis). Air Force's Chad Hall (34 attempts for 275 yards and one touchdown in a 30-10 win over Army). Washington's Louis Rankin (36 carries for 255 yards and one touchdown in a 27-9 victory over Stanford). Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall (17 carries for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-17 win at Minnesota). Arkansas' Felix Jones (13 carries for 166 yards and three scores in the win over the Gamecocks). Georgia's Knowshon Moreno (26 carries for 196 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-34 defeat of Troy). Clemson's James Davis (eight attempts for 118 yards and one score in a 47-10 victory at Duke). Ohio State's Chris Wells (21 carries for 169 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 win over Wisconsin). Ohio's Kalvin McRae (28 carries for 151 yards and one touchdown in a 23-7 win over Temple). Penn State's Evan Royster (21 carries for 126 yards and one touchdown in a 26-19 victory over Purdue). Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy (31 attempts for 140 yards and one touchdown in a 20-17 defeat of Syracuse). Kansas' Brandon McAnderson (25 carries for 119 yards and four touchdowns in a 76-39 beatdown of Nebraska). Texas' Jamaal Charles (16 carries for 180 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-35 comeback against Oklahoma State). Central Florida's Kevin Smith (29 attempts for 188 yards and two scores in a 47-13 blowout over Marshall). Toledo's Jalen Parmele (22 attempts for 168 yards and three scores in a 52-28 win over Eastern Michigan). Tulsa's Jamad Williams (31 carries for 153 yards in a 49-25 win at Tulane). Connecticut's Donald Brown (24 carries for 154 yards and one score in a 38-19 win over Rutgers).
(Off) the Mark
Someone please notify On the Mark when Nebraska starts caring about its football program again. As long as the Cornhuskers keep coach Bill Callahan around, it's obvious they have written off this season and all future recruiting endeavors. How else to explain keeping Callahan around after another epic embarrassment against Kansas on Saturday?
The Jayhawks steamrolled Nebraska like no one has ever rolled Big Red before. In a 76-39 annihilation of the Cornhuskers, Kansas scored 48 points in the first half and had 572 yards and 34 first downs.
Nebraska has allowed 359 points and 4,776 yards in 10 games. The Cornhuskers will attempt to avoid their first six-game losing streak in 50 years when they host Kansas State on Saturday.
On the Mark
Game-changing quarterbacks. Virginia Tech's Sean Glennon (22-for-32 for 296 yards with two touchdowns and one touchdown run in a 27-3 win at Georgia Tech). Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (15-for-28 for 237 yards with three touchdowns and 136 rushing yards and two scores in a 40-38 win at New Mexico State). Iowa's Jake Christensen (21-for-36 for 299 yards and one touchdown in a 28-17 win at Northwestern). Indiana's Kellen Lewis (22-for-35 for 354 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-20 defeat of Ball State). Virginia's Jameel Sewell (20-for-43 for 225 yards and one touchdown in a 17-16 win over Wake Forest). Florida's Tim Tebow (22-for-27 for 281 yards and three touchdowns and two touchdown runs in a 49-22 blowout of Vanderbilt). Kansas' Todd Reesing (30-for-41 for 354 yards with six touchdowns against Nebraska). BYU's Max Hall (22-for-30 for 355 yards with three touchdowns in a 35-16 rout of Colorado State). Boise State's Taylor Tharp (28-for-35 for 259 yards with three scores in a 42-7 win over San Jose State). Texas Tech's Graham Harrell (37-for-46 for 433 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-7 victory over Baylor). Rice's Chase Clement (32-for-58 for 395 yards with six touchdowns in a 56-48 comeback over UTEP). UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe (30-for-57 for 373 yards with five touchdowns in the loss to the Owls). Arizona's Willie Tuitama (21-for-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns in a 34-27 win over UCLA). LSU's Matt Flynn (24-for-44 for 353 yards with three touchdowns in a 41-34 win at Alabama). Missouri's Chase Daniel (26-for-44 for 421 yards with five touchdowns in a 55-10 blowout over Colorado). Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson (30-for-42 for 430 yards with two touchdowns and one touchdown run in the loss to the Longhorns). Oregon's Dennis Dixon (13-for-22 for 189 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-23 win over Arizona State). Middle Tennessee's Joe Craddock (22-for-29 for 401 yards with four scores in a 43-40 comeback at Louisiana-Monroe). Florida State's Drew Weatherford (29-for-45 for 354 yards with two touchdowns in a 27-17 upset at Boston College). Tulsa's Paul Smith (18-for-27 for 319 yards and three touchdowns against Tulane).
(Off) the Mark
Army football has made tremendous strides under first-year coach Stan Brock, who has led the Black Knights to a 3-6 record. Army has beaten Rhode Island, Temple and Tulane this season, which are hardly football powers, but quality wins no less.
Army has also been competitive against bigger programs, too. The Black Knights trailed Wake Forest 14-7 in the second quarter before losing 21-10. They trailed Boston College 16-7 at the half in a 37-17 loss and fell behind Georgia Tech 13-10 at the half in a 34-10 defeat.
So Army athletic director Kevin Anderson's decision to opt out of a 2008 game at Georgia Tech raises more than a few flags. In fact, it's as if he's throwing up the white flag when it comes to Army football.
In a letter to Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich, Anderson wrote: "After evaluating the limited depth on our roster, we realize playing consecutive games against schools from major conferences is not in the best interest of our program or our cadets. Under similar circumstances in years past, our players have suffered numerous injuries that have threatened both their athletic and military careers."
Thank goodness Anderson's duties don't involve military operations.
On the Mark
Big-play receivers. Penn State's Derrick Williams (10 catches for 95 yards and one score against the Boilermakers). Florida's Percy Harvin (11 runs for 113 yards and two touchdowns and nine catches for 110 yards in the rout over the Commodores). Kansas' Dezmon Briscoe (five catches for 52 yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska). Rice's Jarett Dillard (11 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns versus UTEP). Michigan's Mario Manningham (eight receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-24 comeback against Michigan State). LSU's Demetrius Byrd (six catches for 144 yards and one touchdown in the win at Alabama). Florida State De'Cody Fagg (six receptions for 111 yards and one touchdown against Boston College). Kansas State's Jordy Nelson (13 catches for 194 yards and one touchdown in a 31-20 loss at Iowa State). Ball State's Dante Love (14 receptions for 177 yards in the loss at Indiana). Boston College's Brandon Robinson (seven receptions for 163 yards and one touchdown in the loss to Florida State). Nebraska's Maurice Purify (seven catches for 158 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Kansas).
(Off) the Mark
Can Oklahoma State possibly find another way to lose to Texas next season? The Cowboys lost a lead against the Longhorns for the fourth time in five seasons and Saturday's collapse might have been the worst. Oklahoma State led 21-0 in the first half and 35-14 to start the fourth quarter. But the Cowboys' lead never seemed safe, especially against Texas, which gets into the Cowboys' heads more than newspaper columnists.
Charles, who scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally Texas against Nebraska last week, scored twice in the final quarter again. His 75-yard touchdown run pulled the Longhorns within 35-28 with 7½ minutes to play. Then Colt McCoy threw a 60-yard pass to Jordan Shipley to set up Vondrell McGee's 1-yard touchdown, which tied the score at 35-35 with 3:22 left.
The Cowboys were in position to win the game with less than two minutes remaining, but Jason Ricks missed a 32-yard field goal with 1:13 to go. Texas took over at its 20, and McCoy drove the Longhorns right down the field. He completed a 30-yard pass to Jermichael Finley to move into Oklahoma State territory, then the quarterback ran for 14 yards on third-and-11. Texas' Ryan Bailey kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired for the improbable 38-35 win.
"When we put pressure back on them, I think that question arises again, 'Uh-oh. Here we go again. We've been there,'" Texas coach Mack Brown told reporters after the game. "I don't understand it. I don't know how it works that way, but sometimes it does."
It keeps happening to the Cowboys. They blew a 35-7 lead against Texas in 2004 and 28-9 lead in 2005.
On the Mark
Michigan quarterback Chad Henne's guts. Indiana's becoming bowl eligible. East Carolina, Central Florida, Fresno State, Houston and Tulsa become eligible, too. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (19 tackles, sack against Wisconsin). The Buckeyes' 10 sacks. Penn State's defense. Nittany Lions linebacker Dan Connor (11 tackles, becoming the school's all-time leader). TCU's defense (37-0 shutout of New Mexico). Rice's comeback (down 20 points in fourth quarter against UTEP). USC quarterback John David Booty's return (157 passing yards, two touchdowns in a 24-3 win over Oregon State). FSU linebacker Geno Hayes' interception return for a touchdown. North Carolina State kicker Steven Hauschka's game-winning field goal against Miami. Virginia's poise. The Saban Bowl. LSU on fourth down. Connecticut. Kansas. Middle Tennessee's Bradley Robinson (89-yard kickoff return for touchdown to beat Louisiana-Monroe with 45 seconds left). Southern Connecticut State's Jerom Freeman (418 rushing yards in a 56-28 win over Bryant, an NCAA Division II record).
(Off) the Mark
Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett's four interceptions. Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan's three interceptions. UCLA. Kansas State. South Florida's eight turnovers. South Carolina's defense. Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman (1-for-14 for 84 yards with three interceptions in the loss to NC State). Phantom flags in South Bend, Ind. Marshall. Baylor. Maryland. Winless Florida International. Winless Utah State.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
2dSam Khan Jr.