Navy rallied from behind to defeat host Tulsa, 20-17, on Friday, Oct. 29. The Midshipmen came alive offensively after a slow start but were stout on defense throughout the game. Junior kicker Bijan Nichols made both of his field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder with less than five minutes remaining that proved to be the difference.
1. Navy’s defense carried momentum from an inspirational performance against Cincinnati to Tulsa.
Only six days after holding the nation’s second-ranked team significantly below its season average for points and yards, the Navy defense answered the call again on a short week.
Tulsa recorded less than 300 yards of total offense after entering with an average of 459.4 yards. It went 4-of-11 on third down, and Navy held the Golden Hurricanes to one touchdown on four trips to the red zone. Their only offensive touchdown of the night came on a 2-yard pass from quarterback Davis Brin to Ezra Naylor II with 2:21 to play.
Navy (2-6, 2-4 American Athletic Conference) also forced a pair of turnovers, including a fumble recovery against an offense that had only lost two all season entering the game Oct. 29. Linebacker Johnny Hodges dislodged the football while sacking Brin and striker John Marshall, the Midshipmen’s leading tackler with nine, jumped on the fumble. Freshman defensive back and Gilman graduate Rayuan Lane chose the perfect time for his first career interception, making a highlight-reel diving catch of a pass dropped by a Tulsa (3-5, 2-2) receiver in the end zone to keep the score knotted at 10 with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
The Midshipmen held powerhouse Cincinnati to 271 yards (95 rush, 176 pass) of total less than a week earlier. The total output was the fewest yards Bearcats had gained in their previous 19 games and 156 yards below their average for the season. Cincinnati’s 27 points were also 16.5 points below its season average. The seven-point win was the closest game of the year for the second-ranked Bearcats.
2. Offensively, the Midshipmen could not have started worse. But then they played Navy football the rest of the way.
Navy’s first five possessions of the game ended in punts. Its sixth ceased with a turnover on downs with just under two minutes remaining in the first half.
The rest of the way, the Midshipmen sustained lengthy drives that all ended with points, excluding quarterback Tai Lavatai’s kneel downs on the final possession.
Navy tied the score at three with three seconds left until halftime on the first of two field goals by Nichols, set up by a 64-yard run by slotback Carlinos Acie. After surrendering a touchdown return on the second-half kickoff, the Midshipmen marched 75 yards on 10 plays and nearly six minutes. Senior fullback James Harris II punched it from 1 yard out to cap the drive to tie the score at 10.
Navy’s next possession, kickstarted by Lane’s interception in the end zone, spanned more than eight minutes. The Midshipmen ran 15 plays to go 80 yards before Lavatai ran the ball in himself from 1 yard out for a 17-10 lead with 11:25 remaining. Navy created the distance it needed on the scoreboard to survive Tulsa’s late score with a 46-yard field goal by Nichols with 4:14 left.
Acie led the Midshipmen with 80 yards rushing on only three carries and fellow slotback Chance Warren followed with 70. The Golden Hurricane entered averaging 6.6 tackles for loss but only recorded two against Navy.
3. The Midshipmen won the game without completing a pass.
Even for a triple-option team, it’s unusual that all 302 yards of offense came on the ground for the Midshipmen Oct. 29. Lavatai finished third on Navy with 64 yards rushing on a team-high 18 attempts. The quarterback did not complete any of his three pass attempts.
Navy last failed to complete a single pass in a game during a 35-24 loss to Central Florida on Nov. 10, 2018.
4. Navy didn’t let another kickoff coverage blunder define the course of the rest of the game.
The Midshipmen appeared poised to upset then-No. 24 SMU earlier this month. They had just taken a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter on a pick-six by linebacker Diego Fagot when a Mustangs returner ran the ensuing kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown. It started a 17-0 run for SMU, which outscored Navy 23-3 the rest of the way.
So when Anthony Watkins put the Golden Hurricane ahead, 10-3, with a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown to begin the second half Oct. 29, it was logical to doubt Navy’s chances. Instead of allowing it to swing momentum again, the Midshipmen rattled off 17 unanswered points, featuring touchdown drives of 75 and 80 yards.
5. The Midshipmen win their first road game of the season in a venue that’s been friendly to them throughout the years.
In winning its second game of the year, Navy won its first away from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Midshipmen now lead the all-time series between the teams, 7-2, including a perfect 5-0 mark at H.A. Chapman Stadium. Navy improves to 6-1 against the Golden Hurricane as conference foes. The victory snaps a three-game losing steak for the Midshipmen and a two-game winning streak for Tulsa.
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