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Associated Press
Notre Dame’s George Atkinson III scores on 41-yard touchdown run Saturday against Navy in South Bend.
Notre Dame 38, Navy 34

Irish overcome rough seas

Defense struggles with Midshipmen’s offense

– Notre Dame is ready to get back to a sense of normalcy after barely surviving its first test of the season’s final month.

The Irish held on for a 38-34 victory Saturday over Navy, which ran the defense ragged with a triple-option offense that produced 331 rushing yards in front of 80,795 fans in Notre Dame Stadium.

“We get to go back to regular football now, that’s a big thing,” said freshman linebacker and former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith, who stopped the Midshipmen’s final drive by taking down Shawn Lynch for no gain on a reverse on fourth-and-4 from the Irish’s 31.

“When I made the play, as I was taking him down, I was using my peripheral vision to see did he make it or not, as far as the first down. I saw he was short, and it was great.”

Smith’s game-sealing tackle with 1:08 to play was one of the few bright spots for Notre Dame’s defense.

The Midshipmen (4-4) had 207 rushing yards after the first half, and they scored four rushing touchdowns – three by quarterback Keenan Reynolds – and had one passing touchdown, a 34-yard catch by Matt Aiken that gave Navy a 34-31 lead with 8:55 to play.

Notre Dame (7-2) was missing starting nose guard Louis Nix III and linebacker Ishaq Williams to knee injuries, and lost defensive linemen Kona Schwenke and Sheldon Day as well as linebacker Ben Councell and safety Austin Collinsworth to injuries throughout the game.

“This is one, just throw it away,” coach Brian Kelly said of the Irish’s defensive performance. “You get ready for one game and the Naval Academy and what they do and how they do it, and next week, it is such a totally different situation.”

Navy’s defense had just as much trouble stopping Notre Dame.

The Irish gained 506 yards with freshman running back Tarean Folston having a breakout performance with 140 rushing yards on 18 carries. Folston scored the game-winning touchdown from a yard out with 5:08 to play.

“This is a confidence builder,” said Folston, who had 116 rushing yards entering Saturday’s game.

“It’s just like a welcome to college football as a running back.”

Quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 242 yards with touchdown passes of 36 yards to receiver TJ Jones, who finished with 111 yards on four catches, and 17 yards to tight end Ben Koyack. But Rees also threw two interceptions in the second quarter, once when Jones slipped making a cut and the other when the ball went just over DaVaris Daniels’ head.

Navy turned the interception by Parrish Gaines when Jones fell into a 77-yard scoring drive that ended with Chris Swain’s 11-yard TD run with 8:04 to play in the second half. The Midshipmen couldn’t score after the second interception.

Notre Dame entered halftime trailing 20-17, and in a game that featured 927 offensive yards and eight lead changes, the Irish were happy to come out on top and keep their BCS bowl aspirations alive.

“We had to be flawless in the second half offensively,” said Kelly, who improved to 11-1 in November with the Irish.

“We were able to come up with a couple of key stops in the second half that allowed us to put more points on the board than the Midshipmen.”

tkrausz@jg.net

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