Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo says he has been receiving condolence letters in regards to his team’s 0-3 start to the season.
While he appreciates the outreach of fans, friends and family, he doesn’t need the letters.
“I’m grateful for these condolence letters that I’m getting from friends, but nobody’s died,” Niumatalolo said Sept. 27, two days after Navy fell, 28-20, on the road against a heavily-favored Houston team. “This is what we do for a living. This profession, like I’ve said many times, is not for everybody. We’re going to keep going. Our players are going to keep going. Our coaches are going to keep slugging it out. You know what I mean? We’re not quitting. We’re definitely not quitting.”
The Midshipmen played their best game of the young season in Houston and led the Cougars, 17-7, at halftime. It was a major bounce-back from their previous outing — a 23-3 loss to service academy rival Air Force that resulted in the firing and eventual rehiring of offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. Navy more than quadrupled its offensive output during that loss against Houston, rushing for 202 yards and gaining 300 total yards on the game.
“I’ve been doing this 31 years and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more encouraged in a loss than I was Saturday. Losses are losses and there’s no moral victories, but I was encouraged because I thought we played better. I saw Navy football in the first half,” Niumatalolo said. “I saw the way we fought. Our kids left everything on the line. We had one of our team captains try to play injured, Kevin Brennan, so it shows you what type of kids we have. Against a really good Houston team, we had a chance to win and we feel there are some things we have to improve on, but I saw improvement.”
Sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai, Navy’s Week 1 starter, will be available to play this weekend when the Midshipmen host Central Florida. Lavatai left the opener against Marshall early in the second half and missed the following week’s Air Force loss. He dressed against Houston, but Niumatalolo said he was only available for an emergency situation.
A grueling portion of Navy’s schedule continues at home Oct. 2 against UCF. The Knights enter with a 2-1 record off of a bye week that followed a crushing 42-35 loss at Louisville. UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw a pass that was tipped, intercepted and returned for a touchdown with 13 seconds to play. Gabriel suffered a broken clavicle in the loss, so the Knights will turn to true freshman Mikey Keene behind center.
UCF, led first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, was voted in the preseason to finish second in the American Athletic Conference behind defending champion Cincinnati. Malzahn coached at Auburn from 2013-2020, leading the Tigers to an appearance in the national championship game in his first season at the helm.
“They should have beat Louisville. I didn’t need to watch their film this year to know how good they are,” Niumatalolo said. “They have so many weapons offensively to distribute the ball. Defensively, like I told our guys, the guys are going to be just as good, if not better, than Houston as far as athletes. We know this is going to be a tall order.”
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