SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise made Navy pay for its turnovers.
Prosise scored one play after linebacker Jaylon Smith recovered a fumble by Chris Swain on the Navy 7 and two plays after Devin Butler recovered a fumble by Dishan Romine at the 26-yard line on the opening kickoff of the second half. He finished with three rushing touchdowns as the 15th-ranked Fighting Irish beat the Midshipmen 41-24 on Saturday.
“Huge, huge,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of the turnovers. “Those obviously meant a lot in this game.”
Navy had tied the score at 21-21 with 24 seconds left in the first half after 253-pound fullback Quentin Ezell gashed the Irish for touchdown runs of 45 and 22 yards. But Justin Yoon kicked a 52-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half and Prosise put the Irish (5-1) ahead by 10 points with a 22-yard run following the second fumble.
The Midshipmen (4-1), who had won eight straight, had been tied for the lead in the nation with just one turnover before Saturday’s game.
“We had some penalties, some turnovers, some missed assignments, that normally we’re pretty clean on those phases,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Against a good team like Notre Dame, that spells disaster. That’s what happened to us.”
Prosise, who was held to 50 yards on 15 carries in a loss a week earlier against Clemson, scored on runs of 7, 22 and 11 yards and finished with 129 yards rushing as the Irish amassed 459 yards total offense.
“It felt great getting back out there and having some big holes again,” Prosise said. “They weren’t loading the box like last week, and we just had to be able to make some plays on the perimeter, too.”
Prosise joins Frank Lonergan in 1902 and Reggie Brooks in 1992 as the only Irish running backs to rush for three touchdowns twice in the same season.
DeShone Kizer, who was 22 of 30 passing for 281 yards, including a 30-yard TD pass to Will Fuller, said it’s fun watching Prosise run.
“C.J.’s an unbelievable guy who runs after the first hit,” he said.
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds sat out part of the second quarter and the end of the game after falling awkwardly on his left leg while being tackled.
“It’s sore but nothing major is wrong. I just have to rehab it, ice, etc. but I’ll be fine,” he said.
Reynolds finished with 110 yards rushing on 15 carries but the Irish held him without a rushing touchdown for a second straight season. Keenan remains at 73 career rushing touchdowns, four shy of the NCAA record set by Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. His replacement, Tago Smith, threw an interception in the fourth quarter.
Reynolds said the turnovers were too much to overcome.
“Obviously, turning the ball over is always a turning point, and giving them some momentum and some good field position. You can’t do it at all but especially you can’t do it in your own territory. It was inside the red zone both times and that was big for us,” he said.
The loss ended an eight-game winning streak for Navy. The Midshipmen came into the game averaging 340 yards rushing a game and finished with 318, but couldn’t overcome the turnovers. The Irish also held Georgia Tech below its average in a win three weeks ago and are now done with the triple option.
“Thank God,” Kelly said. “I think we established something that I wanted to establish and that is a base way of playing the option teams. It’s something we can carry with us.”
Niumatalolo was disappointed in Navy’s play.
“We knew we had to play perfect again these guys and it was probably our worst game this season,” he said.
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