- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

When one team dominates another like Notre Dame has dominated Navy for 39 years, even the faintest sign of hope excites the long suffering fans.

For Navy, such signs are more than faint, and its fans, in turn, are more than simply excited. Though there have been some surprisingly close games between the Midshipmen and the Fighting Irish in recent years, this is the first time since 1996 that Navy fans could look at a matchup with Notre Dame and not see a loss staring back at them.

On a campus where football typically isn’t a priority, Navy quarterback Craig Candeto said there is a buzz about today’s game in South Bend, Ind., an acknowledgement that the perpetual underdog may have its best chance to interrupt college football’s most one-sided rivalry. Notre Dame has a 66-9-1 edge in the series, and their 39 straight victories over the Mids are the most consecutively by one team over another.

“The people around the academy, the students especially, are really excited about this game,” Candeto said. “I know some people that are driving out there, and I think another reason people are excited is because back here they’ll get to see it on TV. They’ll get to see their school on national television in a game that matters.”

In response to student demand, the academy issued a “movement order” that set up transportation and lodging for a group of 200 students to travel to Notre Dame.

The support hasn’t been restricted to students. Candeto received e-mails of support from former players, including friend and mentor Brian Broadwater, now stationed in San Diego.

“When I got here, he was the senior quarterback, and he kind of took me under his wing,” Candeto said. “He’s been there. He’s played against the Irish. He knows how tough it can be. He just told me to play hard because anything can happen.”

The indications that this year could be different begin with the teams’ records — Navy is 6-3, and Notre Dame is 2-6) — but they tell a skewed story. The Fighting Irish’s six losses came to BCS conference teams, each of which would be the toughest opponent on Navy’s scaled-back schedule. Notre Dame has lost to four teams in the top 15 of this week’s BCS standings (including No.2 USC and No.3 Florida State). The Irish also have a win over Washington State, No.15 in the BCS.

Though Notre Dame’s record doesn’t reflect its talent level, it does indicate the direction of their season. The Irish have lost three straight and are 4-9 over their last 13 games.

Navy is moving in the opposite direction. The Mids have won four of their last five and rebounded from a disappointing loss to Division I-AA Delaware with a dominating 35-17 win over Tulane last weekend.

Giving the Mids added hope is a glance at last year’s contest. A Navy team that had lost seven straight nearly pulled a shocker before a fourth-quarter comeback by the Irish squashed the Mids’ hopes. That Navy team managed 216 rushing yards but was not nearly as fluid as this year’s nation-leading unit, which averages nearly 310 yards. The Mids shouldn’t expect to reach their average, but 250 yards on the ground would go a long way toward producing an upset.

Defensively, the Mids can key on running back Julius Jones with freshman quarterback Brady Quinn struggling after replacing Carlyle Holiday earlier in the season. Against some tough defenses, Quinn has thrown 11 interceptions and only five touchdown passes.

Jones rushed for 100-plus yards in his first three meetings with Navy, and his ability to run will dictate the Irish’s offensive success.

“We’re getting ready to walk into a place that has tremendous tradition, tremendous players, and all [Notre Dame has] heard is how bad they are,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “They are going to be wired, and we better expect it.”

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