Irish escape after Navy leads late


BALTIMORE (AP) -- Notre Dame was sleepwalking through another
poor outing when Carlyle Holiday stirred up things with a rousing
fourth-quarter performance.

Trailing by eight points against lightly regarded Navy late in
Saturday's game, the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish rallied behind
their sophomore quarterback, averting a second straight shocking

Holiday set up the tying score with a 29-yard completion to Omar
Jenkins, then hit a wide-open Jenkins for a 67-yard touchdown with
2:08 remaining to give Notre Dame a 30-23 victory Saturday.

One week after losing at home to Boston College 14-7, the Irish
(9-1) kept their slim national title hopes going by beating the
Midshipmen (1-8) for the 39th straight time.

"We didn't wake up until about four minutes were left in the
game,'' said Irish coach Tyrone Willingham, who tied Terry Brennan
(1954) and Ara Parseghian ('64) for most wins by a first-year Notre
Dame coach.

The Irish, who lost three fumbles against Boston College, lost
three more against the Midshipmen and fell behind 23-15 in the
fourth quarter.

That's when Holiday took over.

"I believe I needed to step up,'' he said. "I just decided to
take a leadership role and make some plays with the ball in my

Holiday's 29-yarder to Jenkins led to a 1-yard TD run by Rashon
Powers-Neal. Holiday then lobbed a pass to an open Arnaz Battle in
the corner of the end zone for the 2-point conversion that tied it
at 23 with 4:28 remaining.

After Notre Dame got the ball back at its 33 with 2:19 left,
Jenkins slipped behind the Navy secondary, hauled in a long pass
from Holiday and sprinted to the end zone.

Notre Dame managed only 68 yards rushing, but Holiday made up
for it by throwing for 272 yards. Jenkins had four catches for a
career-high 166 yards.

"We were not very successful moving the ball on the ground,''
Willingham said. "Our passing game really stepped forward.''

So did Vontez Duff, who became the first player in Notre Dame
history to return a kickoff, punt and interception return for a
touchdown in the same season.

Duff put Notre Dame ahead 15-14 in the third quarter by bringing
back a kickoff 92 yards for the score. He broke through a wave of
defenders at the 20 before breaking to his left and into the clear.

"We needed a play. It comes from the blocking up front,'' Duff
said. "We really pride ourselves on making big plays.''

"Our defense and our special teams have been playing a
different game than other people are playing,'' Willingham said.
"The kickoff return was just a fantastic play.''

Notre Dame leads the series 66-9-1, but few games in the
lopsided series have been as unexpectedly close as this one. Navy
came in as a 28-point underdog and seemingly had no chance, since
it had allowed at least 42 points in six of its eight games.

An already daunting task become even more difficult for Navy
when starting quarterback Craig Candeto sprained his left ankle on
the game's fourth play. Candeto, the team's leading rusher and
scorer, did not return.

Aaron Polanco performed capably in his place, scoring two
touchdowns, but he threw two interceptions after Notre Dame wrested
the lead away for the last time.

"It was our game to have,'' Polanco said. "We could have won.
We should have won. You can't be proud after a loss.''

Especially after playing so well for 56 of 60 minutes.

"I told the guys there are no moral victories,'' Navy coach
Paul Johnson said. "But we can take this game and use it as a
foundation and turn our program around.''

Up 9-7 at halftime, the Irish fell behind early in the third
quarter when Polanco scored from the 1 after a 45-yard punt return
by Aaron Weedo.

After Duff went the distance, Navy responded with an 80-yard
drive, using 12 straight running plays and moving back in front on
a 10-yard run by Eric Roberts. The Midshipmen then converted a
fumble by Ryan Grant into a field goal and a 23-15 lead late in the
third quarter.

The lead didn't last, and after coming so close, Navy lost its
34th straight game to a ranked opponent.

The Irish led at halftime despite managing only 36 yards rushing
and seven first downs -- one fewer than Navy.