- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

BALTIMORE | As the fourth quarter unfolded Saturday, Navy found itself in a situation similar to two weeks ago against Temple, when the Midshipmen rallied from 20 points down for a stunning comeback.

“There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that we were going to win,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

But this time the Mids’ comeback fell short, and Notre Dame escaped M&T; Bank Stadium with a 27-21 win.

After recovering their second consecutive onside kick, the Mids had 1:21 to drive 41 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. After scrambling for a first down, sophomore quarterback Ricky Dobbs had to spike the ball to stop the clock. On second down he took a sack, and his passes on third and fourth down sailed high.

“It was very reminiscent of last year - just the roles totally reversed,” Niumatalolo said. “Our defense made a stop at the end last year; we had the ball in our hands with a chance to win [Saturday], and it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get it done.”

With Navy’s offense struggling, Dobbs relieved senior Jarod Bryant in the third quarter. Niumatalolo said he made the switch not because Bryant was playing poorly, but rather because Navy “needed a spark.” And after nearly bringing the Mids back from another 20-point fourth quarter deficit, Dobbs could get his first career start Nov. 25 at Northern Illinois.

“It’s something we definitely have to consider,” Niumatalolo said. “He didn’t play great, but there’s something about the kid. I can’t explain it. It’s so hard right after the game [to make a decision] because there’s so much emotion. You’ve got to take that stuff out and watch the tape and have a clear view of what guys are doing. … Coming after last week, I thought Jarod would still be the guy if he came back. Based on the end of this game, my initial thoughts are that we’ll probably go with Ricky.”

Navy found itself in such a big hole because it struggled to move the ball. Notre Dame kept an extra defender in the box to stop fullback Eric Kettani (11 carries, 42 yards), a strategy that has not always been successful against the Mids. But Navy’s efforts to attack the perimeter were inhibited by their inability to block the Irish defenders.

The Mids, who entered the game second in the nation averaging 308 rushing yards, managed just 178 yards rushing and were 1-for-13 on third down.

“It was frustrating that we had a hard time blocking people,” Niumatalolo said. “We had two guys - a miscommunication - on some defenders. Even if we went to the right guy [with the pitch], we didn’t have a chance to make the play. I would at least have liked to have seen what we could have done if we had gone to [block] the right people.”

Navy took away Notre Dame’s deep passing game in the first half, so coach Charlie Weis changed his strategy after the break.

The Fighting Irish used a steady stream of draw plays and screen passes to keep the chains moving and extended their 10-7 halftime lead to 24-7 with two touchdowns in their first two possessions of the second half.

Notre Dame finished with 51 rushes for 247 yards and only 19 pass attempts. Three Irish backs - James Aldridge, Robert Hughes and Armando Allen - finished with 60 or more yards, and Hughes and Allen scored second-half touchdowns.

“They were playing a soft shell and were dropping eight a lot of the time, and there weren’t very many windows,” Weis said. “I came in at halftime and told them we were now going to spread them out and we were just going to run the ball until I get sick of running it.”

Most of the sellout crowd of 70,932 had already sought shelter from heavy rains when the Mids started a furious rally with 2:30 remaining in the game.

The Fighting Irish were leading 27-7 when slotback Shun White scored from 24 yards out. Navy’s ensuing onside kick was recovered by linebacker Corey Johnson, and on the first play of the next drive, Dobbs hit receiver Tyree Barnes for a 40-yard completion down to Notre Dame’s 1-yard line. Dobbs punched it in two plays later, bringing the score to 27-21 just 18 seconds after White’s touchdown.

Johnson recovered the next onside kick as well, but the Mids’ drive faltered.

But after nearly erasing a 20-point deficit in the final three minutes of the game, Dobbs appears to be in line for his first career start.

“Whatever the coaches decide, I’ll just go with it,” he said. “I’ll take it as it comes. Either way, I’ll be ready.”

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