On Oct. 10, the Navy football team beat Temple, 31-29, to secure the 100th win of head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s career. It came as a surprise to Niumatalolo that he reached this milestone against Temple, which had beaten Navy in the last three matchups (2016, 2017 and 2018) between the two teams.
“Going into this game, I still remember talking to my wife. She’s like, ‘What are you thinking?’ I said, ‘Honey, if we win this game it’s going to be a miracle,’ and these kids found a way to win it,” Niumatalolo said on Glenn Clark Radio Oct 14.
Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to a 100-62 record in his 13-plus years as head coach and currently holds the record for the most wins as a head coach at Navy. He has six bowl wins, the most in school history, and he is the only Navy coach to win three consecutive bowl games.
But success has not come as easy for the Midshipmen this season as they have had an uneven start. They lost their season opener to BYU, 55-3, before slipping past Tulane, 27-24. The Mids lost to Air Force, 40-7, a week before the game against Temple.
Navy seemed to have turned its game around this past week, as it led Temple for all four quarters beginning with Jamale Carothers’ first-quarter touchdown run. The Mids, who posted 251 rushing yards and 48 passing yards, stopped a last-minute two-point conversion attempt to secure the two-point win.
“In this profession, it’s definitely week to week,” Niumatalolo said. “Our two losses have been blowouts and our two wins have been at the last second wins. … We got our worst beatdown ever as a staff by BYU. … That’s probably the worst beating our staff has gotten in the service academy.”
Niumatalolo’s team was determined to improve on its rocky start to the season.
“We just felt like we wanted to be a more physical football team. … We got pushed around by BYU. We got pushed around in the first half by Tulane. We got pushed around by Air Force. It was a rallying cry for our program,” Niumatalolo said. “Our big deal this week was to get more physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage, to run more physical”.
Bijan Nichols, the sophomore kicker, kicked a 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to put Navy up eight points with 9:06 to go in the game. He also hit four extra-point attempts.
“Obviously, last year when he kicked winning field goals [at] Tulane, the bowl game and other games, he just showed me not only that he had the strength, but he had the fortitude and the mental capacity to make big kicks in big games,” Niumatalolo said. “I know how much of a weapon he is.”
Navy senior fullback Nelson Smith scored two touchdowns and recorded 120 yards to help the Midshipmen win against the Owls. Smith rushed for 571 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019.
“Nelson’s more the bruiser inside,” Niumatalolo said. “I thought Nelson’s running kind of sparked our whole line, because that’s what we’ve been preaching all week, that we have to get back to Navy football and create some physicality, and Nelson led the way in doing that.”
The Midshipmen are looking to improve their record as they take on East Carolina Oct. 17.
“We’ve got to move onto the next one, and that’s kind of hopefully how we can build on that, just move on,” Niumatalolo said. “Don’t pat ourselves on the back. … Don’t put your head down, don’t feel sorry for yourself, come back to work. This week, don’t read the press clips, don’t read anything, just try to come back to work.”
For more from Niumatalolo, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox