SOUTH BEND, Ind. It's over. After 44 years and three overtimes.
Navy finally beat Notre Dame 46-44 in triple overtime on Saturday, ending the Fighting Irish's NCAA-record winning streak against the Midshipmen at 43 games.
"It's a big win for our program. It's a big win for the academy," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "I'm happy I don't have to answer anything else about the streak every time we play."
Roger Staubach was quarterback for the Midshipmen in 1963 when they beat Notre Dame 35-14. Since then, the Irish have had their way that is until Saturday.
Seven times during the streak the Midshipmen had chances to win in the fourth quarter only to be thwarted by bad luck, questionable calls or big plays by the Irish. A few times Saturday it looked as though the win would elude them again. But this time it was the Midshipmen who managed to make the decisive plays.
Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada threw a 25-yard TD pass to Reggie Campbell on the first play of the third overtime, then found him again for the 2-point conversion.
Notre Dame (1-8) cut the lead to two on a 5-yard TD run by Travis Thomas. But after a pass interference call gave Notre Dame a second chance at the 2-point conversion, defensive lineman Michael Walsh and linebacker Irv Spencer tackled Thomas well short of the end zone on the final play.
"Honestly, this win hasn't even hit me yet," linebacker Matt Wimsatt said. "I can't wait to talk to everybody back home. This is definitely bigger than just one football game."
For Notre Dame, it was its school-record fifth straight home loss, another low point in a season of lows. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said the 43-game winning streak had no meaning to him or the team.
"They're worried about here and now. These kids are 17. You think they're worrying about 43 years?" he said.
"To be honest, I don't even know what the streak was at before it ended," linebacker Joe Brockington said.
Weis said the home losing streak was much more important to the players. It also is the first time the Irish have lost five at home in one season.
Notre Dame did have its best game offensively, rushing for 235 yards, nearly doubling their season output, and James Aldridge ran for 125 yards. It wasn't enough.
The Irish, who did little to slow Navy's option offense, held the Midshipmen to three-and-out late in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 28. Greg Veteto had the first punt of the game, and Tom Zbikowski returned it 32 yards to the Navy 38.
The Irish drove to the 24, but on fourth-and-8 Weis decided to go for it rather than attempt a field goal. Chris Kuhar-Pitters, who earlier returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown, sacked Evan Sharpley with 45 seconds left.
It was the fourth sack for Navy, which entered the game with five.
Notre Dame, which hadn't scored more than 20 points this season, led 21-14 at halftime, the first halftime lead for the Irish.
The two teams traded touchdowns most of the day and had just traded missed field goals when Kuhar-Pitters came up with his big play early in the fourth quarter. Sharpley dropped back to pass and was wrapped up by nose guard Nate Frazier and defensive end Michael Walsh knocked the ball loose. Kuhar-Pitters scooped up the loose ball and rumbled into the end zone.
Kaheaku-Enhada ran in the 2-point conversion to give the Midshipmen a 28-21 lead.
The Irish responded, though, with a touchdown of their own as Thomas went in from 3 yards out with 3:25 remaining to tie it.
In the first overtime, Navy's Eric Kettani scored from a yard out and Notre Dame tied it with Duval Kamara's 8-yard touchdown catch. The teams traded field goals in the second OT.
Weis was asked whether the game, following a 38-0 loss to USC, was a low point for the Irish.
"A low point is when you get beat 38-0. That's a low point," he said. "A low point is when the game is going OK and one team is pulling away from you and making plays when you're not making plays. The low point for me is we didn't win the game."
Robert Hughes, whose brother Tony was fatally shot on Tuesday, scored Notre Dame's first touchdown on a 3-yard run. Irish players, some of whom attended the funeral Friday, swarmed Hughes. He ran over to the sideline and got a hug from Weis.
Weis said the biggest disappointment for him is the Irish couldn't win the game for Hughes and his family.
"I wanted Robert Hughes standing up on the chair singing the fight song in the locker room," he said. "You want to know what's important to me? That's what's important to me."
Before the game, a moment of silence was held for Hughes' brother and the death of Ryan Shay, a former Notre Dame runner who died Saturday during the U.S. men's marathon Olympic trials.