Ultimately, this game ended as so many others in the Navy-Notre Dame series have, with the Fighting Irish players celebrating and the Midshipmen contemplating yet another loss. This time, it came down to the final seconds: Notre Dame junior D.J. Fitzpatrick made a 40-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Irish to a 27-24 win in front of 80,795 at Notre Dame Stadium.
The victory Saturday was Notre Dame's 40th in a row over Navy, extending the Irish's NCAA record for consecutive wins against one opponent. It was certainly one of the most exciting; the game featured six lead changes and two ties. On the final kick, Navy junior safety Josh Smith got a hand on the ball, which knuckled toward the uprights but split them cleanly.
"I looked, and I didn't expect it to go in," Smith said of the kick. "But it still went in. Hats off to him -- he made it, and it was a pressure kick. I was laying on the ground, and I turned around and saw it go through, and it was disbelief. I thought I had it."
Fitzpatrick was the latest -- and perhaps unlikeliest -- of heroes to emerge from this rivalry, which began in 1927 and has been played every year since.
Fitzpatrick, a walk-on, had never attempted a field goal at Notre Dame until four weeks ago, when he kicked two after replacing injured starter Nicholas Setta in a win at Pittsburgh. He had struggled earlier in the game, missing on attempts from 50 and 42 yards in the first half.
Navy (6-4) felt that this year was one of its best chances to beat Notre Dame (3-6), which was off to its worst start since 1963 -- the last year that the Midshipmen beat the Irish.
"It's very tough to swallow," quarterback Craig Candeto said. "We had an eight-point lead last year and blew it in the fourth quarter. This year, we're battling, and we really felt that this was the year we were going to turn the corner."
Navy led, 24-21, after fullback Kyle Eckel scored on a one-yard run with 9 minutes 53 seconds left in the game. Notre Dame responded with a 12-play drive -- in which running back Julius Jones carried the ball six times -- that resulted in a 30-yard field goal by Fitzpatrick that tied it.
After regaining possession, Notre Dame turned to Jones, a senior, on its final drive.
Jones, with 33 carries for 221 yards, carried the ball four times and caught two passes as the Irish drove to the Navy 23 to set up the game-winning kick.