SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Navy's option attack gave Notre Dame fits on Saturday.
But a fumble and a timely Irish stop on the Midshipmen's last drive finally sealed Navy's fate and secured Notre Dame's 38-34 come-from-behind triumph.
"It's a difficult game to play, nobody runs this option as effectively," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. "It's find a way to beat them and move on. We were fortunate the last couple of year that we got up early on them. This year is was let's get a win and get out of here."
Tommy Rees threw two touchdown passes while freshman Tarean Folston rushed for a game-winning score as the Irish (7-2) maintained hopes for a BCS bowl berth with their fourth straight win.
The Midshipmen (4-4) suffered their third loss in four games.
Notre Dame went ahead for good late in the fourth quarter thanks to a 76-yard scoring drive.
The big play in an 11-play drive was Rees' 28-yard completion to Troy Niklas that gave the Irish a first and 10 at the Navy 20. Four plays later the Irish took the lead on Folston's first career touchdown with 3:47 left in regulation.
Navy then drove deep in Notre Dame territory but stumbled.
A fumble by DeBrandon Sanders after a pitch from Reynolds pushed the Midshipmen back to the Irish 41 and a fourth down trick end-around play by Shawn Lynch fell short of a first down with 1:08 to play.
"I thought we had the perfect scenario," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We got the ball to the 50 yard line, all our timeouts left. ... If we were going to score, I wanted to score with basically nothing on the clock, and we had a chance."
Navy sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another as the Midshipmen piled up 331 rushing yards, the most given up by Notre Dame this season.
The Midshipmen also had more than a 15-minute advantage in time of possession and no penalties.
"It came down to execution," Reynolds said. "The coaches put together a brilliant game plan, we executed on the field and that allowed us to have success on the ground and move the ball and score some points.
"It's very disappointing, we wanted to come out with a win."
But Notre Dame had the overall statistical edge with 506 net yards as Rees went 12-for-20 for 242 yards and Folston rushed 18 times for 140 more. TJ Jones hauled in four passes for 111 yards.
"(Folston) was running well and it just felt like we would stick with him," Kelly said. "He's always had the mental makeup and I think this is (now) more about his physical conditioning and having the hot hand."
Notre Dame opened a 7-0 lead on its first drive on George Atkinson III's 41-yard TD run. It was the first opening quarter touchdown scored against the Midshipmen this season.
Navy quickly tied the game as Reynolds capped a nine-play, 56-yard drive with his 2-yard touchdown plunge.
Notre Dame stalled deep in Midshipmen territory and Kyle Brindza hit a 26-yard field goal with 4:57 left in the first quarter for 10-7 lead.
Midshipmen free safety Parrish Gaines intercepted Rees early in the second quarter, setting up Navy's successful 10-play, 77-yard drive for a 14-10 lead. Fullback Chris Swain scored on an 11-yard run with 8:04 left in the half.
Less than two minutes later Rees and Jones combined on a 36-yard touchdown pass play as Notre Dame jumped back ahead 17-14. Reynolds then scored on a 3-yard run with 2:07 left but Nick Sloan's extra point kick went wide, leaving Navy with a 20-17 lead it maintained into the second half.
Rees and tight end Ben Koyack combined on a 17-yard third-quarter TD strike for a 24-20 lead, wrapping up an 11-play, 84-yard drive. Navy answered with a 13-play, 75-yard effort and Reynolds' 4-yard touchdown run four seconds into the fourth quarter for a 27-24 edge.
The lead swung back Notre Dame's way with 12:51 as Cam McDaniel's 4-yard touchdown run helped make it 31-27.
Navy led 34-31 with 8:55 to play after Reynolds lofted a 34-yard touchdown strike to Matt Aiken.
The Irish came into Saturday ranked 25th nationally by USA Today and 26th by the Associated Press.
Saturday's game was the 87th between the programs, the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the nation. The Irish now lead the series 74-12-1.
Notre Dame travels to Pitt next week while Navy hosts Hawaii.
NOTES: Navy junior guard Jake Zurek started his 21st consecutive game while junior center Tanner Fleming played his 19 straight. ... Reynolds came into the game with 10 career wins. He started his career with four straight victories, the best start since Bob Powers won six in a row in 1979. ... The Midshipmen entered the game 10th in the nation in rushing offense (292.2 yards). ... Notre Dame LT Zach Martin started his 48th career game and tied Maurice Crum Jr. (2005-08) for third all-time. Sam Young (2006-09) leads with 50. ... TJ Jones' 6-yard pass reception on the opening drive was the 36th straight game he's caught a pass. A 45-yard reception later in the quarter made him the 10th Notre Dame receiver to top 2,000 yards. ... DL Louis Nix III missed his second straight game with knee tendinitis. ... The Irish are now 137-26-5 all-time against service academies. They beat Air Force 45-10 last week.