Worth and Navy football run down Notre Dame to clinch bowl berth
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Behind another memorable performance from senior quarterback Will Worth, a second game in Florida over nine days yielded a much more palatable outcome for the Navy football team.
This time, the Midshipmen emerged with a 28-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon at EverBank Field. The triumph not only was Navy's first against the Fighting Irish since 2010 but also secured a bowl berth for the 13th time in 14 years.
The Midshipmen (6-2) are contractually bound to the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 in Fort Worth but remain in the hunt for a New Year's Six berth should they finish as the top-ranked team among conference champions from outside the Power Five leagues.
"That's exciting, but we just beat Notre Dame," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We don't beat those guys very often, so I guess all of that is great. We're just kind of in euphoria, Cloud Nine right now having beat Notre Dame. I've been here a long time. We've had some crushing defeats to those guys, and to be able to finally come out on top, it feels so good."
Worth led the charge to a fifth consecutive bowl appearance with 175 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, directing a triple-option attack that ran out the last 7 minutes 28 seconds after Notre Dame (3-6) got within the final margin on Justin Yoon's 31-yard field goal. Fighting Irish Coach Brian Kelly opted for the field goal on fourth and four though his defense had not forced a punt all game.
Navy then embarked on its clinching drive, which included Worth's 15-yard completion to wide receiver Jamir Tillman on fourth and six. Worth also ran for two yards on fourth and one on the sixth play of the series in front of an announced crowd of 50,867.
The Midshipmen amassed 320 rushing yards and converted 4 of 5 fourth downs to rebound from a 52-45 loss to South Florida in Tampa on Oct. 28. In that game, Worth set a Navy record with 428 yards of total offense. He's also rushed for 100 yards in four straight games and scored in every game this season.
Worth took over in the season opener when Tago Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Last season Worth's primary responsibility was as the holder on field goals and PATs. He had been the third-string quarterback behind record-setting Keenan Reynolds and Smith during his first three years.
"It's just kind of crazy how things have played out," Worth said. "Just heartbroken the first week of the season when Tago went down, but to be able to keep this thing going, I think one of the things that's been helping me to do it is the brotherhood, the love that we have for each other."
In moving in front for good, 28-24, early in the fourth quarter, Navy ran nine minutes off the clock for its most time-consuming drive this season. Worth finished it off on first and goal with a one-yard keeper immediately after a nifty cutback allowed him to break loose for 27 yards on third and seven.
The drive covered 75 yards in 16 plays during which Worth also burrowed for two yards on fourth and one. The Midshipmen had lined up to punt shortly before then, but officials, upon replay review, determined Notre Dame had 12 men on the field.
"They executed flawlessly," Kelly said. "It's what we expect when we play Navy."
Notre Dame went ahead on its first drive of the third quarter when quarterback Deshone Kizer completed a 13-yard scoring pass to Equanimeous St. Brown on third and six. The wide receiver secured the ball near the 10, broke free from linebacker Micah Thomas and somersaulted across the goal line for a 24-21 advantage with 5:51 to play.
The Fighting Irish went 3 for 3 on third-down tries during the series, including a 10-yard completion from Kizer to wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., on third and four from the Navy 17.
The lead had swung back to the Midshipmen, 21-14, on the first possession of the second half thanks to Calvin Cass Jr.'s 37-yard run. The first touchdown this season for the slotback came less than four minutes into the third quarter, with Cass taking a pitch on third and nine and sprinting down the left sideline behind blocks from Tillman and slotback Dishan Romine.
Navy went into halftime trailing, 17-14, when the Fighting Irish scored with 30 seconds to play on Kizer's eight-yard throw to tight end Durham Smythe. The scoring play unfolded one snap after Kizer broke containment to gain 11 yards on third and 10. The Midshipmen allowed Notre Dame to convert all three of its third-down attempts during the 14-play, 75-yard drive.
For the game, the teams combined to convert 17 of 26 third downs. Neither team committed a turnover, although the Midshipmen fumbled twice, recovering both times.
"There's no words for this," Tillman said. "When I came in, that was the first thing I wanted to do. I wanted to beat Notre Dame. I got some buddies on that team, and every year we get so close, so close, but so close only matters in horseshoes. It feels crazy to beat them my senior year. We displayed our culture by how we played today."