LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Everett Golson threw for three touchdowns and ran for three scores to help No. 6 Notre Dame beat Navy 49-39 on Saturday night after blowing a 21-point lead.
After scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions, the Fighting Irish (7-1, No. 10 CFP) appeared on their way to an easy victory.
Navy then scored 24 straight points to move ahead 31-28 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
Golson put Notre Dame back in front with a 3-yard burst into the end zone, and a 25-yard touchdown run by Tarean Folston made it 42-31 with 12:22 remaining.
Two missed field goals by the Irish kept Navy’s hopes alive. The Midshipmen (4-5) took advantage by scoring a touchdown and 2-point conversion to close to 42-39 with 4:18 remaining, but the onside kick failed and Golson wrapped it up with an 8-yard TD run with 1:27 to go.
The Irish have won four straight in college football’s longest continuous intersectional rivalry and now lead the series 75-12-1.
Off last week, Notre Dame had two weeks to agonize over a 31-27 loss at Florida State. Needing a victory to stay relevant in the college football playoff, the Irish averaged nearly 10 yards on their 35 plays during the opening 30 minutes and finished with 533 yards.
The defense wasn’t nearly as impressive. Navy ran for 336 yards, most against Notre Dame this season, and the Irish have now yielded a total of 113 points in their last three games.
Golson, however, was virtually unstoppable. He went 18 for 25 for 315 yards and ran for 33 yards on nine carries to help Notre Dame to its highest point total of the season.
Just like last year, when Notre Dame allowed 419 yards in a 38-34 win, the Irish counted on their offense to compensate for a defense that had all sorts of trouble with Navy’s triple option.
After cutting a 21-point deficit to 28-17 at halftime, Navy took the second-half kickoff and held the ball for 7 1/2 minutes before Geoffrey Whiteside scored on a 13-yard run.
The Midshipmen then forced Notre Dame into its first punt in this series since 2012. Mids coach Ken Niumatalolo kept his offense on the field for a fourth-and-2 from the Navy 42, and Noah Copeland justified the decision with a 54-yard run around left end to set up a 4-yard touchdown by Chris Swain for a 31-28 lead.
Golson’s 3-yard TD run put the Irish back in front, and Navy tried to keep pace by pulling out a trick play on a third-and-7 from its own 39. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds pitched the ball to Copeland, who passed it to a wide-open Reynolds. But the ball went through Reynold’s hands, and the Midshipmen had to punt.
After Golson hit Chris Brown for a 42-yard gain, Folston scored for an 11-point cushion.
At that point, many in the crowd of 36,807 at the home stadium of the Washington Redskins began heading to the exits.
Early on, it appeared the game would be a blowout.
The Irish went up 7-0 with a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, a 78-yard pass from Golson to C.J. Prosise.
Navy answered with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Reynolds to tight end Thomas Wilson. Folston then ran for 43 yards in a 65-yard drive that ended with Golson’s 2-yard TD pass to Ben Koyack.
The back-and-forth ended with a Navy punt, and Golson took the Irish 76 yards for another touchdown and a 21-7 lead. He carried this one in himself, freezing linebacker Chris Johnson with a pump fake on a 5-yard run.
Notre Dame upped the margin to 21 points when Golson flipped a 4-yard pass to Will Fuller to complete an 84-yard march.
Navy made things interesting with an 18-yard touchdown run by Desmond Brown. Then, after an interception by George Jamison at the Navy 14, Austin Grebe kicked a 44-yard field goal as the half ended.