NOTRE DAME, Ind. - In a season where things have not always come easily, Notre Dame managed a hard-fought 38-34 win over Navy. A day that began with heavy rain saw a game that featured eight lead changes and a career-high rushing day for freshman running back Tarean Folston.
Notre Dame marched right down the field and scored less than three minutes into the game on George Atkinson's 41-yard run. Atkinson returned the opening kick 33 yards and did not touch the ball during the seven-play drive until his touchdown burst. It marked the first time an opponent has scored a first quarter touchdown against Navy this season.
Navy responded with a touchdown of its own not quite four minutes later when quarterback Keenan Reynolds scored from two yards out. The short plunge capped a nine-play, 56-yard drive that took 4:40 off the clock to tie the score at 7-7.
Kyle Brindza put the Irish on top 10-7 with a 26-yard field goal on Notre Dame's next possession. The drive began when Tommy Rees hit T.J. Jones with a 45-yard pass on the first play.
Navy took its first lead at 14-10 when fullback Chris Swain scored on a dive play from 11 yards out. It was the third play of the 77-yard drive that covered double-digit yardage. The drive started at the Navy 23 after Rees was intercepted when Jones fell down on the wet grass.
It took the Irish just four plays and 1:46 on the clock to cover 73 yards en-route to its next touchdown. Rees capped it with a 36-yard pass to Jones for the score, which put the Irish back up 17-14 with 6:18 left in the first half.
Jones finished his day with 111 yards, all in the first half, to top the century mark for the fourth time this season. He is also the 10th Notre Dame receiver to eclipse 2,000 yards in a career.
The Midshipmen moved right back down field for another touchdown, a three-yard run by Reynolds, to regain the lead at 20-17 after a missed extra point with 2:07 remaining on the second quarter clock. This time the drive covered 75 yards, including 15 yards for a personal foul on the Irish for a hit near the Navy sideline.
Rees was intercepted for the second time in the half when Navy cornerback Brendon Clements snared a pass intended for DaVaris Daniels on Notre Dame's first play of the ensuing drive. Navy was able to run out the final two minutes of the half to lead by three at the break.
Navy was forced to punt after starting the second half with the ball. The Irish then got the lead back with Rees' second touchdown pass of the day - a 17-yard strike to Ben Koyack. It's the second TD in as many weeks for the tight end. The 84-yard drive put the Irish back on top 24-20.
Reynolds, who has more rushing touchdowns than anyone else in college football in 2013, scored his 15th of the season and third of the day from four yards out at the end of a 13-play, 75-yard drive. The score came just four seconds into the fourth quarter and put the Mids up 27-24.
The seesaw affair continued when the Fighting Irish took the lead back just two minutes later on a four-yard touchdown run by Cam McDaniel. Folston gained 44 yards on three carries during the 76-yard drive, which made it 31-27 Irish.
The Midshipmen answered again when Reynolds threw his first touchdown of the day - a 34-yard strike to receiver Matt Aiken - to go up 34-31 with 8:55 remaining. The Navy drive covered 70 yards in seven plays.
Folston scored his first career touchdown with 3:47 to play to give the Irish a 38-34 lead. Folston, who became the first freshman Irish back since Robert Hughes in 2007 to top the century mark in a game with 140 on the day, carried the ball seven times for 55 yards during the 76-yard drive.
Marcus Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to give Navy the ball at the 50 with 3:38 to play. The Mids drove to the 31 before calling a timeout with 1:16 to play. They tried a reverse on 4th and four, but Jaylon Smith ran down wide receiver Shawn Lynch for a stop at the line of scrimmage to give Notre Dame the ball back to kneel down and run out the clock for the nail-biting victory.
Rees was just 12-of-20 for 242 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions to help the Irish outgain Navy 506-419 in total offense. Atkinson added 74 yards on the ground on seven carries (10.5 average). McDaniel had 52 yards on seven totes.
Swain led Navy with 85 yards on 16 carries, while Quinton Singleton added 77 on 16 carries. Reynolds was 6-of-9 through the air for 88 yards. He rushed for 53 for a Navy team that finished with 331 yards on the ground.