- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

When Navy coach Paul Johnson gathered his players for their daily post-practice chat one day last week, he was actually smiling.

He told the Midshipmen they had a great opportunity when No. 11 Notre Dame rolls into Baltimore to face Navy tomorrow at M&T; Bank Stadium. Johnson said no one outside that huddle gave them any chance of staying with the Fighting Irish, and that brought a smile to his face.

“We understand that nobody outside of our little circle gives us much of a chance and we know our chances aren’t great,” senior cornerback Jeremy McGown said. “We are realistic about it. But we know if we work hard we have a chance against anybody.”

The Mids have lost 42 consecutive games to the Irish, an NCAA record for futility against one opponent. Every year the players hear about how Roger Staubach was the last Navy quarterback to beat Notre Dame, and his legend in Annapolis seems to grow every season around this time.

Navy’s current quarterback situation could be the reason for even less people believing in the Mids’ chances tomorrow. With senior Brian Hampton out for the season, sophomore Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada will make the first start of his career.

There is some interesting recent history for inexperienced Navy quarterbacks against the Irish. Aaron Polanco relieved an injured Craig Candeto four years ago in Baltimore and nearly piloted the Mids to an upset. Navy led 23-15 late in the fourth quarter before the Irish rallied.

In 1999, a sophomore quarterback made his first career start against Notre Dame. Brian Madden ran for 168 yards and threw for 86 more as Navy led 24-21 in the waning moments at South Bend. A questionable spot on a fourth-and-10 for Notre Dame, now infamous in Navy football lore, helped preserve the drive and eventually the Irish scored to keep the streak alive.

“Yeah [I think Kaheaku-Enhada is ready], I mean as far as knowing what we are trying to do and what we are trying to get accomplished,” Johnson said after practice Wednesday. “He was really sharp today with the game plan and with all the checks. He’s human. Is he going to be a little uptight Saturday right before the game? Probably, and so will I. But I would be uptight if Brian was there, too. Once he starts playing he will be fine.”

This group of Navy seniors has accomplished a great deal in their four years in Annapolis. But there is one goal they have yet to accomplish, and it is understandable if they are a little weary of the tale of Roger Staubach beating mighty Notre Dame four decades ago.

“It is a different type of opportunity. We’re looking for a way to distinguish this team as one of the great teams in Navy history,” McGown said. “We kind of fumbled the opportunity to have the best record since we’ve been here, so here goes one of those opportunities to do something no Navy team has done since before we can remember.”

Navy has actually won five more games than Notre Dame since the start of the 2003 season, but there are still substantial underdogs. For many of the Mids, having the chance to face the Irish on national television every year was one of the reasons for choosing Navy.

“I have friends back at home who are like, ‘Get Brady Quinn’s autograph.’ ” McGown said. “You get an opportunity to measure yourself against some of the greatest athletes out there — guys that are going to be in the NFL and you can continue to watch them. I would love to say that I had an interception against the first pick in the NFL Draft or something like that.”

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