Thursday's college football: Notre Dame, Navy battling as Top 25 foes

John Fineran
Associated Press
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, on the job since 2007, is 4-8 in the rivalry with Notre Dame.

South Bend, Ind. — Belated congratulations came to Roger Staubach on a February day in 2008 at the Daytona 500.

A Notre Dame alum wondered how Staubach, an owner of a NASCAR team with fellow Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, felt about Navy’s 46-44 triple-overtime victory at Notre Dame the previous autumn. The ear-to-ear smile spoke volumes for Staubach, who at the time was the last Navy quarterback to beat the Irish — back in 1963 while winning the Heisman Trophy.

It’s been 56 years since Staubach led Navy to a 35-14 win at Notre Dame Stadium and the Midshipmen will return Saturday for the 93rd meeting in what is billed as the nation’s longest continuous intersectional football rivalry.

It will be the first time since 1978 that both teams come in ranked in the AP top 25: Notre Dame (7-2) is No. 16 and Navy (7-1) is No. 21. The Midshipmen are coming off a bye week following their fifth straight victory, 56-10 over Connecticut. The Irish beat Duke, 38-7, last week and return home, where they’ve won 16 consecutive games.

Notre Dame won 43 straight games against Navy before that 2007 win that had Staubach smiling. Notre Dame’s 78-13-1 dominance has often provoked criticism from outsiders as to why the series has continued. Notre Dame’s response remains one of honor and perpetual thanks to the U.S. Navy for putting an officer’s training center in South Bend to boost attendance during World War II.

“For both of us to be ranked, it’s kind of cool,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, an assistant to coach Paul Johnson in that streak-ending 2007 Navy victory who has since orchestrated three victories over the Irish starting with a 23-21 triumph over Charlie Weis’ last team in 2009.

Niumatalolo’s last two wins came against Brian Kelly-coached teams in which Navy was the designated “home” team: 35-17 in New Jersey in 2010 and 28-27 in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2016. That team finished 4-8 for Kelly’s only losing season with the Irish.

“I think just the respect part of it in terms of who we’re going against, (future) leaders of our country,” Kelly said. “That, to me, is what’s great about this game — the history and tradition behind it and why this game is being played today.”

New inductees

The Black College Football Hall of Fame announced its latest class: Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M), Erik Williams (Central State), coach Joe Taylor, Earl Harvey (N.C. Central), James Hunter (Grambling State) and MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas.