Go Navy beat Irish!

By George Somerville

The new College football season starts this Saturday with the first fixture being the Navy Midshipmen facing off against  the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Aviva stadium in Dublin. 

The Touchdown team will be there to witness the season opener and will bring you all the build up to the game as well as the action during and after the season opener at the Aviva stadium!

Home from Home

With seemingly 40,000 US fans travelling to Ireland for the season opener, it appears that Navy football has a bigger battle on its hands this time around with a “neutral” venue packed literally with Irish fans.

As the Navy Midshipmen gear up to make the trip across the pond, the College Chaps had the opportunity to sit down with Navy head coach Brian Newberry and full back Daba Fofana.

Rightly so the focus of the chat was on the team’s trip and the challenges they face travelling to Ireland to play The Irish.

You can listen to the full conversation here.

A long distance relationship

When you think about Navy and football rivalries its natural to think about the Army-Navy game. After all, ask anyone associated with college football and the Army-Navy game is the one that appears on everyone’s bucket list.

However the rivalry that Navy has with Notre Dame might be just as intense. It’s certainly a long-standing one, which has been played for nearly 100 years. A game between the Midshipmen and the Irish was first played in 1927 and the rivalry has been played every year up until 2019, only to be interrupted by the pause in football created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This makes this rivalry game the longest uninterrupted intersectional rivalry in college football & the second longest uninterrupted rivalry in FBS football.

With Coach Newberry being new into the role, we asked him if he was aware of how intense the rivalry with Notre Dame is.

“I was well aware” Newberry said.


“My first year (with Navy) in ’19 was my first time on that field (at Notre Dame). You’re aware of it but you don’t understand fully until you’re part of it”.


“It’s a great game for us to have, It’s a great rivalry – it’s a great tradition. The history behind it is pretty cool”.

For Junior fullback, Daba Fofana this experience is  something he has dreamed of for some time,

“it felt like a dream being part of it” said full back Daba Fofana of playing in the rivalry game last season”.


‘playing a team as good as Notre Dame is has always been a dream of mine growing up”.

"Breathe, focus, explode"

Of course the opportunity for college football teams to play outside the continental US is a rare one. So the special nature of this experience is not lost on Navy, its coaches or players.

“It’s going to be an awesome experience” said Fofana when asked about travelling outside the US to play football.

“I’ve looked up images of the Aviva stadium before and just seen how cool that stadium looks from the outside. It’s something I’m really looking forward to, just being in there and playing football. Playing on this huge stage where it’s the first college football game of the entire season. I can’t wait for it”.

Of course with a sellout crowd which will be predominantly American it is sure to be loud. So what does Navy expect from the experience?

“Honestly I don’t know what to expect. There’s going to be 40,000 American fans in the stadium so it’s not going to be predomantly Irish crowd”. said Fofana,

I know it’s going to be electric regardless but I don’t know what kind of electric!”.

So how will Navy block out the partisan crowd they are sure to face? Coach Newberry talked about practice and mental attitude.

“we do that in practice, we bring in some speakers and get some noise going – so try to simulate that a little bit. It’s probably not possible to entirely simulate it but you want the players to be as ready for it as you can”.

But it’s more than just practising with noise. For Newberry it’s every bit as much about how his players tackle the mental side of the game.

“I think just talking to them about being laser focused, Take it all in when you step on the field and eliminate all of the noise and distractions.


We like to say breathe, focus, explode around here…..so we’ll want them to use that energy from the stands, but use it in a positive way and don’t let it become a distraction”.

Image credit: Patrick Smith, Getty Images

The Navy Underdog

Notre Dame go into this game as heavy favourites backed by historical results which show the Irish as perennial winners in this fixture.

However, last year the Navy Midshipmen came close to beating Notre Dame. Something they haven’t been able to achieve since 2016. In fact Navy have only beaten the Irish 13 times in the game’s 95 year history.

With such a low success rate arguably the pressure is off for Navy, certainly in terms of expectations when they step onto the field against the Irish. This is a theory that Coach Newberry subscribes to.

“For us it’s a game that we’re never expected to win, truthfully”

Newberry told the Chaps.

That doesn’t mean we don’t expect to win the game and don’t feel like we can but we’re the underdogs. I kind enjoy being the underdog”.

Of course this is still Newberry’s first game in charge of Navy and in such a high profile game, does this bring added pressure?

“I’d like to tell you no” joked Coach Newberry

“but that wouldn’t be completely honest. It’s a huge game & it’s our first game, so there’s pressure in itself for that reason.

I’m excited to see where we’re at. Our kids are excited – they’ve worked extremely hard”. 

In last season’s game Navy were narrowly defeated by Notre Dame 35-32. While the final score masks the lead that the Irish accumulated in the first half, the 2nd half comeback by Navy gives them confidence that they aren’t far away from beating Notre Dame. 

“It definitely gives us confidence going into the game” said full back Fofana with a huge smile on his face.

“We know how close we can get and we know the mistakes that we made and how to fix them”. 

The importance of not letting the Irish get the same head start that they got last year is vital if Navy want to avoid defeat. Fofana continued on what Navy has to do this time around.

“One thing that we need to do from last year was to get off to a faster start. We ended up picking up late in the game and getting close late in the game. Getting off to a faster start and executing for the entire game is something we’ll be focusing on”.

Last time out against the Irish, Coach Newberry was the defensive co-ordinator for Navy. So what does the new Head coach thinks the Midshipmen have to do to register a 14th victory over Notre Dame?

“we’ll have to be at our very best”

said Newberry,

“Our players know that but with that being said we can’t do anything to beat ourselves”

as Newberry acknowledged the quick lead that Navy afforded Notre Dame in last years game.

“we’re going to have to go in there and win the turnover battle – we didn’t do that last year and we dug ourselves quite a hole in the first half and got off to a pretty poor start. In the last three minutes of the first half that kinda put the game out of reach despite the final score”.

Image credit: Navy Sports

Dominate the Run Game

Military academy football is known for the triple optiion and Navy is no different. Under previous head coach, Ken Niumatalolo and with Brian Newberry in charge now, domination of the run game remains key. So it seems fortuitous to have spoken to Navy’s head coach and running back on the same call.

“we need to take care of the football” Newberry told the Chaps.

“we need to possess the ball on offense and we need to win the rushing battle. We need to run for more yards than they do. That’s a goal of ours every week. 

We’ve got to dominate the run game and when we get opportunities we have to take advantage of them’.

And what of Notre Dame? Well the Irish have a new quarterback in Sam Hartman who transferred in from Wake Forest in something of a fanfare. 

Coach Newberry shared his thoughts on how to stop the Irish QB,

“The system that he played in at Wake Forest was very unique. The offense with the slow RPO’s. He was custom made for the offense.

But I don’t see Notre Dame changing a lot on offense although they do have a new offensive co-ordinator and bringing in a new quarterbacks coach who was at Cincinnati last year. I imagine that there will be some wrinkles that Gino brings in particularly in the passing game”.

Newberry is clearly a fan of Hartman but equally knows he has to have a plan to stop Hartman from controlling the game early on.

“He’s a really good player and everything we try to do is to affect the quarterback. We want to try to confuse that guy and to keep him off balance…throwing him different looks and disguising what we are doing. But playing a quarterback like that – he’s like a coach on the field. He’s a very, very good football player and a great leader. He’s a quarterback that has all the intangibles. The guys around him have really taken to him at Notre Dame. He’s a good player and we have to do a good job of affecting him”. 

Image credit: Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The battle for quarterback

Will Tai Lavatai suit up as QB1 in Dublin? Image credit: Navy Sports

While Notre Dame have a clear view on the starting quarterback, there is no such clarity at Navy. Yet.

Arguably, Navy has three quarterbacks still in the mix going into Saturdays game with any one of the three in the running to play at some point throughout the season. 

Currently the Midshipmen have senior Tai Lavatai, sophomore Blake Horvath and senior Xavier Arline  all vying for the starting jersey on Saturday, although Newberry seems to have narrowed his search down to two.

“It’s really a two man battle right now”

said Coach Newberry talking about Lavatai and Horvath. 

“the third guy is a guy that has played a lot for us and we think we can win with. The fourth is a true freshman and is very talented and will be a very good player but won’t be ready for the Notre Dame game.” 

Newberry was  referencing Xavier Arline who picked up an injury last season playing his second sport, Lacrosse.

“So, it’s starting to clarify itself in where we’re at a little bit. But it’s always good to have competition at that spot during camp.


In our system you have to be able to play two maybe three quarterbacks because of the nature of the offense and what we do. The pounding that these guys take by the quarterback that runs the football in the way that we do. 


Anytime that you have three or four that you feel really good about – that’s a good thing as far as your depth goes. 

I imagine that two guys will play in that first game”

From recent reports its appears that Lavatai will start at QB but given the “wrinkles” we expect to see from Navy this season don’t be surprised to see Horvath or Arline for that matter on the field in Dublin.

With Thanks

With thanks to Navy football and Scott Strasemeier for arranging the discussion and giving us the opportunity to speak with Coach Newberry and Daba Fofana. And thanks to both Coach and Daba for taking the time out from their schedules to talk with the College Chaps.

Mock Draft

george somerville

College football writer