Wimbush rallies No. 9 Notre Dame past Navy, 24-17
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — With their slim College Football Playoff hopes fading, Brandon Wimbush and Notre Dame finally found a rhythm and put Navy away.
Wimbush threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score as No. 9 Notre Dame rallied in the rain and wind to beat Navy 24-17 Saturday.
Wearing throwback uniforms with the name Rockne on the back of every player’s jersey and helmets designed to evoke the leather lids from the era of Knute Rockne, one of the Fighting Irish’s most famous names, Notre Dame (9-2, No. 8 College Football Playoff) kept its slight shot at a spot in the national championship playoffs alive heading into the regular-season finale next Saturday at Stanford.
Wimbush, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in Notre Dame’s 41-8 loss at No. 2 Miami two Saturdays ago, started slow before connecting with Kevin Stepherson twice and added his 14th rushing TD of the year as the Irish scored on three straight possessions late in the longest-running matchup between teams from different regions of the country, dating to 1927.
“I started seeing things a little more clear and adjusted to the tempo Navy was playing at,” Wimbush said.
“I thought he was gritty and hung with it,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of his quarterback’s play in the wet and windy (gusts of 20 mph or more) conditions during the game. “I was proud of the way he responded.”
Stepherson, who missed the first four games of the season as he worked through some issues with Kelly, caught five passes for 103 yards.
“He means a lot to our offense and you can see the results,” Wimbush said. “He’s become such a huge factor in our offense.”
Running back Josh Adams, who was limited to 62 rushing yards by injuries in Notre Dame’s previous two games against Wake Forest and Miami, topped the century mark for the seventh time, finishing with 106 yards on 18 carries.
The Irish outgained the Midshipmen (6-4) 327-318, but Navy outrushed Notre Dame 277-163 and had a huge advantage in time of possession, 42:42 to 17:18.
“They’re a four-down team,” Notre Dame linebacker Greer Martini said after leading the defense with 15 tackles in his last home game. “They get fourth and short (and) they have a high percentage of getting those two to three yards.”
Notre Dame didn’t secure the victory until there was 1:28 left in the game. After a timeout on a fourth-and-5 at Notre Dame’s 25, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo opted for some trickery.
Quarterback Zach Abey pitched the ball to slotback Darryl Bonner, who passed downfield to wide receiver Tyler Carmona, who was open for a moment. But Carmona slipped on the wet Notre Dame Stadium turf, the pass fell incomplete and Notre Dame twice took a knee to run the clock out.
“He was open,” Niumatalolo said. “We missed the block on the edge. If we get the block on the edge, we had a shot. Our kids fought to the end - our kids didn’t show any quit.”
Abey, who sat out Navy’s 43-40 victory over SMU with an injury, returned to direct the triple-option attack and finished with 87 yards rushing, matching fullback Anthony Gargiulo. Abey scored on a 1-yard run and only threw the ball six times for 41 yards, including a 12-yard TD to Craig Scott.
Navy: The Midshipmen wouldn’t let the Irish play with the football. Navy entered leading the nation in time of possession with its average of 35:47, and after three quarters already had possessed the ball for 33:39.
Notre Dame: At 9-2, Notre Dame still has an outside chance at one of the four berths in the College Football Playoff. The Irish will need a lot of help, however, and likely are headed to one of the New Year’s six bowls if they win Saturday in the regular-season finale at Stanford.
Navy was 8 of 18 on third-down conversions and converted 4 of 6 fourth-down plays. However, the Midshipmen’s last fourth-down attempt. Notre Dame was 4 of 8 on third downs and did not attempt a fourth-down conversion play.
RUSHING UP THE LIST
With his 106 rushing yards Saturday, Adams has 1,337 yards this season, the fourth best season rushing total behind Vagas Ferguson (1,437 in 1979), Allen Pinkett (1,394 in 1983) and Reggie Brooks (1,343 in 1992). He became the sixth running back to eclipse 3,000 yards and moved ahead of Julius Jones for fifth place in the career list.
With a victory at Stanford next Saturday, Notre Dame would finish its regular season 10-2 and be eligible for one of four New Year’s Six bowl games set by the College Football Playoff committee after it matches the semifinal games, the Rose and Sugar, played on New Year’s Day. The other four — the Cotton (Dec. 29), Fiesta (Dec. 30), Orange (Dec. 30 and Peach (Jan. 1) — could be landing spots for the Irish. A 1-1 finish brings two Orlando-based bowls — the Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28) and Citrus (Jan. 1) into the picture.
Navy, which became bowl eligible last Saturday with its 43-40 victory over SMU, could end up playing on its home field — Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium — against Virginia in the Dec. 28 Military Bowl.
Pro football scouts from the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles AND the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL were accredited to sit in the press box.
Navy: Midshipmen travel to Houston next Friday.
Notre Dame: Irish travel to Stanford next Saturday.