Navy (6-2) clinched bowl eligibility at the same time Notre Dame (3-6) was put on the brink of bowl elimination in Jacksonville. A Will Worth pass completion on fourth and six to Jamir Tillman allowed the Midshipmen to run out the clock on the final possession of the game. Navy held the football for the final seven minutes and 28 seconds to hang on to a 28-27 victory.
With just over seven and a half minutes to play, Brian Kelly was faced with a decision on fourth and four. Kick a field goal and cut Navy’s lead down to one and hope the defense can get the ball back, or go for a first down and keep a drive alive. Kelly opted for a 31-yard field goal. Notre Dame’s offense never stepped back on the field until the postgame handshakes and alma mater performances. It was a critical coaching decision that appeared to backfire in a big way, although whatever happened on the drive it was pretty clear Notre Dame’s defense would need to make a stop either way. It did not, allowing two fourth-down conversions and committing a costly pass interference penalty on a third down on Navy’s final possession.
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer passed for 223 yards and three touchdowns, but it was all for nothing as the Irish defense was unable to make a stop. Navy scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions, not counting the final possession that ran out the clock in the second half.
Kelly has now lost to Navy twice (a dubious feat also accomplished by his predecessor, Charlie Weis), while Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has picked up his third win against the Irish since becoming Navy’s head coach. Navy can now refocus its sights on competing for the American Athletic Conference title, while Notre Dame simply looks to find any reason for optimism.
Navy returns to American Athletic Conference play next week back home in Annapolis against Tulsa. the game will have high stake sin the division on the line. A Navy win will keep the Midshipmen atop the division with two conference games to play. Navy would have a minimum one-game lead in the division with a win against the Golden Hurricane, but Tulsa could take over first place in the division with a win and a head-to-head tiebreaker with Navy. Tulsa plays at home against East Carolina later tonight.
Notre Dame has one more service academy to play next week. Notre Dame will face Army in San Antonio next Saturday. The Irish are now on the brink of being ineligible for postseason play, unless 5-7 teams start getting invites to fill vacancies. Even then, Notre Dame may have a difficult road to travel to a bowl game. Notre Dame must win their final three games of the season just to hit the typical win minimum for bowl eligibility (six wins), or two of the final three to jump in the 5-7 mix. With games still to play against Virginia Tech and USC, Notre Dame could very well be staying home this bowl season.