Navy takes to the air, and prayer, to take down Notre Dame

Navy players celebrate after defeating Notre Dame, 28-27, on Saturday.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

Ken Niumatalolo couldn’t watch. He was otherwise occupied.

Navy’s coach did not hesitate to go for it on fourth down and six deep in Notre Dame territory with 1 minute 19 seconds left in his team’s game against the Fighting Irish on Saturday at Jacksonville, Fla.

But as quarterback Will Worth passed over the middle to Jamir Tillman for a 15-yard gain, Niumatalolo was on one knee, his head bowed.

“I had my eyes closed. I was praying,” he said. “It obviously worked out great.”


It was the eighth pass Worth had thrown in the game and it went for his fifth completion and longest gain.

The former backup, who took over when Navy’s starter was injured in the season opener, passed for a grand total of 48 yards — and won, 28-27, because he ran for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

Well, that and because Navy rarely let Notre Dame have the ball.

The Fighting Irish scored on all but one of their six possessions, but couldn’t wrest the ball away from Navy, which converted on four of five fourth-down plays. 


Notre Dame was also hurt by Coach Brian Kelly’s decision to kick a field goal with about 7½ minutes remaining and his team trailing by four points.

Kelly gambled that his defense, which hadn’t forced a punt all game, could get the ball back. It never did.

On its final clock-killing drive, Navy converted in third-and-nine, fourth-and-one, third-and-three and fourth-and-six situations.

“I don’t question the decision to go for the field goal,” Kelly said, “other than the fact that we couldn’t get the ball back.”

Navy became bowl eligible with its sixth win in eight games. Notre Dame fell to 3-6 and would need to win its remaining games against Army, No. 19 Virginia Tech and USC to qualify for a bowl game.

Tide changes

Navy-Notre Dame is college football’s longest continuous intersectional rivalry, 90 games in consecutive years. 

At one point, the Fighting Irish won 43 in a row.


Navy has won four of the last 10.

On tour

The Navy-Notre Dame game has never been played in Annapolis, Md. Other than South Bend, Ind., the teams have met at Baltimore, Cleveland, East Rutherford, N.J., Philadelphia, Orlando, Chicago, Landover, Md., and twice in Dublin, Ireland.

In 2018, the game is scheduled for San Diego.

For the birds

Navy may have been the pride of military academy football for the day, but it’s Air Force’s season.

The Falcons defeated Army, 31-12, to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the 20th time since it was first awarded in 1972. (Air Force defeated Navy, 28-14, during Week 4 this season.)

In years Air Force wins, a falcon adorns the front of the trophy; when Army has won, it’s a mule; when Navy is champion, it’s a goat.


Chicago Cubs fans would tell you it hasn’t been a great year for goats.

No harm, no foul

Washington and Pac-12 Conference fans were howling when the undefeated Huskies were placed fifth, one spot behind once-defeated Texas A&M, in the first College Football Playoff ranking.

But sometimes perceived injustices take care of themselves.

Texas A&M not only lost Saturday to unheralded Mississippi State, 35-28, it saw its quarterback, Trevor Knight, sustain what appeared to be a right shoulder injury during the second quarter.

Knight was struggling anyway, misfiring on his first five passes and completing just five of 14 before leaving the game. His backup, Jake Hubenak, performed creditably, completing 11 of 17 for 222 yards and two touchdowns with a late interception.

The Aggies’ biggest problem was the other quarterback, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, who passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns.

Rose Bowl commemoration

Duke wore “battleship gray” uniforms during its 24-21 loss to No. 19 Virginia Tech to acknowledge the (almost) 75-year anniversary of the Rose Bowl game being played in Durham, N.C.

Yes, the same Rose Bowl that is annually played in Pasadena.

The 1942 game was moved because of fears that Japan, which had attacked Pearl Harbor 25 days earlier, might also attempt to hit the West Coast during World War II.

The logo on the helmet honored the 88th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, nicknamed the “Blue Devils.”

Celebratory swig

Drew Lock, as your mom might tell you, please be careful what you put in your mouth.

The Missouri quarterback got a little carried away when someone in the South Carolina student section, perhaps miffed at the Tigers for celebrating a 25-yard touchdown run by Ish Witter, lobbed a fairly full water bottle in his direction.

The container bounced a couple of times in the end zone, liquid spilling from it, before Lock picked it up as it rolled at about the two-yard line. Then, without pause, he splashed some of the contents into his mouth.

It looked like water. Hopefully it smelled and tasted like it.

Extra points

Stanford’s final 26 plays from scrimmage during a 26-15 win over Oregon State were runs.

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk completed 22 consecutive passes during a 69-7 win over Arizona, one shy of the Pac-12 Conference record of 23 accomplished by Aaron Rodgers of California against USC in 2004. Falk finished having completed 32 of 35 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns.

Miami snapped a four-game losing streak — its longest since 1977 — with a 51-28 win over Pittsburgh. Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya, a product of West Hills Chaminde High, completed his first 13 passes, one shy of the school record of 14 consecutive completions set by Vinny Testaverde against Oklahoma in 1986. Kaaya connected on 32 of 47 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns.

Running back James Conner, who is having a big season after recovering from cancer, has moved into second place on Pitt’s career rushing list with 3,353 yards. He has a ways to go, though, to reach the top spot. The record is held by Tony Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner, who gained 6,526 yards.

D’Onta Foreman gained 37 yards in his first seven carries for Texas against Texas Tech. Not bad. His next 26 carries went for 304 yards. Better.

Texas Christian’s 62-22 win over Baylor gives the Horned Frogs a 53-52 edge in the series between former Southwest Conference and current Big 12 Conference rivals. There have been seven ties.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

Twitter: @MikeHiserman

Get our daily Sports Report newsletter