25-Year CFB Anniversary: Navy’s Hail Mary Comes Up Yard Short in Loss to Notre Dame

From 1964 to 2006, Notre Dame and Navy played every season. Of those 43 meetings, the Fighting Irish won them all.

There were, however, close calls along the way. One of those came on this day 25 years ago.

Needing 71 yards for the winning touchdown, Navy came up a yard short. Allen Rossum made the game-saving stop as Notre Dame survived, 21-17.

Setting the Stage

Notre Dame was just 3-5 as it arrived at its home field on Nov. 1, 1997. Despite the disappointing season, the Fighting Irish had a streak to preserve. They had defeated Navy in 33 straight seasons.

Navy was 3-3 and coming off a 42-7 rout of VMI. Against Notre Dame, the Midshipmen hadn’t played a game decided by fewer than 15 points since 1984.

Rossum Saves the Day

The contest featured just one tie and three lead changes, but for three quarters, Navy was better than Notre Dame. Behind two touchdown runs from quarterback Chris McCoy, Navy took a 17-14 lead to the final period.

That would last for more than half the quarter as the Fighting Irish mounted a drive to remember. On a march that lasted 17 plays and ate nearly eight minutes off the clock, Notre Dame converted three third downs and one fourth. Autry Denson rushed for 125 yards in the contest and with less than six minutes to play, his second touchdown of the day put Notre Dame in front, 21-17.

After a defensive stop, it appeared that Notre Dame would escape with the victory as it attempted to run out the clock. Inside Navy’s 30-yard-line, the Fighting Irish were stopped on fourth down, giving Navy the ball at its own 29-yard-line with just three seconds remaining.

McCoy fired deep on the game’s final play. With Notre Dame defenders surrounding the ball, it appeared the game would end with an incomplete pass or interception, but the ball bounced off the Fighting Irish secondary members and into the hands of Navy’s Pat McGrew.

With only green grass in front of McGrew, the speedy Rossum was Notre Dame’s last hope. Rossum made his way from the center of the field to shove McGrew out at the 1-yard-line. With no time on the clock, disaster was averted as the Notre Dame winning streak over the Midshipmen hit 34.

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In Hindsight

For Notre Dame, the victory would spur a late season turnaround. Under first-year head coach Bob Davie, the Fighting Irish would close the regular season on a 5-game winning streak. After beating LSU in Baton Rouge during the regular season, Notre Dame fell in an Independence Bowl rematch to finish 7-6.

As for Navy, it would also enjoy a late-season turnaround. The Midshipmen won their final four games with each win coming by at least 28 points to finish 7-4.

Their final loss that season came up less than two yards shy of becoming a miraculous victory. It also came on this day a quarter-century ago.

Featured image courtesy of YouTube/NBC broadcast

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.