Owls send Mid­ship­men to third straight de­feat

Change of quar­ter­backs doesn’t re­verse Navy’s fad­ing for­tunes

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

An un­ex­pected change at quar­ter­back lifted Navy’s of­fense for a while, but was not enough to change the team’s sag­ging for­tunes.

Head coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said ear­lier in the week he was stick­ing with Mal­colm Perry at quar­ter­back in the wake of a dis­as­trous of­fen­sive per­for­mance against Air Force. How­ever, Ni­u­mat­alolo changed his mind later in the week and de­cided to make a change af­ter all.

Gar­ret Lewis wound up mak­ing his sec­ond ca­reer start at quar­ter­back while Perry lined up at slot­back when the Navy of­fense took the field for the first time against Tem­ple on Satur­day.

Lewis did an out­stand­ing job of di­rect­ing the triple-op­tion and dis­tribut­ing the ball dur­ing the first half as the Mid­ship­men showed far more bal­ance than they have for most of this sea­son. Un­for­tu­nately for Navy, the of­fen­sive im­prove­ment was fleet­ing – last­ing one pos­ses­sion into the sec­ond half.

The Owls held the Mid­ship­men score­less for the fi­nal 28 min­utes of the game and ral­lied from a 10-point deficit.

Quar­ter­back An­thony Russo com­pleted 23 of 31 passes for 300 yards and a touch­down to lead Tem­ple to a 24-17 vic­tory over Navy be­fore an an­nounced crowd of 30,106 at Navy-Ma­rine Corps Memo­rial Sta­dium.

Russo con­nected with wide re­ceiver Ven­tell Bryant for a 62-yard touch­down pass in the fourth quar­ter that broke a 17-17 tie and lifted Tem­ple (4-3) to its fourth win in the past five games. Bryant fin­ished with 147 re­ceiv­ing yards for the Owls, who im­proved to 3-0 in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence.

“I am just so amaz­ingly proud of the way those guys fought back and stayed to­gether. They made play af­ter play af­ter play in an ad­verse sit­u­a­tion in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment,” Tem­ple head coach Ge­off Collins said. “You just can­not say enough about that group of young men in there. How much they love each other and how much they fight, scratch and claw to­gether.”

Sopho­more full­back Nel­son Smith es­tab­lished a ca­reer-high with 108 rush­ing yards for Navy (2-4, 1-2), which suf­fered its third straight loss. Lewis ran for 56 yards and a touch­down while Perry added 48 yards on the ground for the Mids, who saw their of­fense fall apart af­ter tak­ing a 17-7 lead early in the third quar­ter.

Navy had two drives stall in Tem­ple ter­ri­tory and failed to pick up a first down on three oth­ers in man­ag­ing a mere 67 yards on its fi­nal five pos­ses­sions. The Mid­ship­men fin­ished with just 284 to­tal yards in yet an­other dis­ap­point­ing of­fen­sive per­for­mance.

Af­ter­ward, Ni­u­mat­alolo railed on about a block in the back penalty that wiped out an ap­par­ent 30-yard touch­down run by Perry, who im­pro­vised on a trick play to seem­ingly con­vert a fourth-and-eight sit­u­a­tion. Perry got the ball off a dou­ble re­verse and was ap­peared set to throw to Lewis down­field when he got pres­sured and took off run­ning in­stead.

It was yet an­other amaz­ing run by Perry, who made sev­eral de­fend­ers miss with light­ning-quick cuts and showed his speed in weav­ing his way into the end zone. Cen­ter Ford Hig­gins was flagged for the block in the back and the 10-yard penalty that left Navy in fourth-and-13 and forced a punt.

Re­plays showed that Hig­gins lightly pushed de­fen­sive tackle Fred­die BoothLloyd in the back af­ter the 330-pounder had turned and dove at Perry’s legs.

“I don't think that was a penalty. I thought that was a bad call. The kid turned and he dove. That was a hor­ri­ble call,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said.

Ni­u­mat­alolo said the de­ci­sion to start Lewis was made on Thurs­day and had noth­ing to do with the re­cent per­for­mance of Perry and was all about a de­pleted slot­back corps. Navy was with­out start­ing slot­back CJ Wil­liams and top backup Keoni-Kordell Makekau. The other start­ing slot­back, Tre Walker, got hurt on Navy’s first pos­ses­sion of the game and played spar­ingly the rest of the way.

“It felt like we were al­most three guys down. CJ was down and Keoni was down. Tre’s a tough kid and he’s try­ing to bat­tle his way back, but he’s still not 100 per­cent with his brace,” said Ni­u­mat­alolo, re­fer­ring to the fact Walker is com­ing off knee surgery.

“Just watch­ing a bunch of young A backs in prac­tice, I just felt like I’d rather have Mal­colm over there than some of those younger guys who haven’t played yet. Plus, Gar­ret's a good quar­ter­back and has done a lot of good things.”

Lewis looked good run­ning the op­tion in the first half – mak­ing good reads and gen­er­ally get­ting the ball where it was sup­posed to be. Smith and backup An­thony Gargiulo were gain­ing good yardage on the full­back dive while Lewis had some nice runs off keep­ers to the perime­ter.

Lewis brings more of a pass­ing threat than Perry and showed that when toss­ing a bul­let to wide re­ceiver Tay­lor Jack­son for a 14-yard gain on third-and-nine late in the first quar­ter. Un­for­tu­nately, things fell apart in the sec­ond half and sud­denly the Mid­ship­men could not get any­thing go­ing.

“I think we came out well and ex­e­cuted pretty well from the start. Un­for­tu­nately to­ward the end we didn’t make enough plays to win the game,” Lewis said. “They just made some plays on de­fense and we didn’t make plays on of­fense. We had some missed as­sign­ments, some missed checks on my be­half. It came down to mak­ing plays and we didn’t make enough.”

Be­cause Navy is play­ing 13 reg­u­lar sea­son games this sea­son it must win seven in or­der to qual­ify for a bowl game. It will be dif­fi­cult to do with Hous­ton (4-1) com­ing to Annapolis next week and three un­de­feated teams to fol­low. Navy plays fifth-ranked Notre Dame (7-0) in San Diego to close out this month then at No. 25 Cincin­nati (6-0) and No. 10 Cen­tral Florida (6-0) to start off Novem­ber.

“We’ve got to re­group every week, that’s what we do. We al­ways have to re­group. We ain’t quit­ting, we ain’t go­ing any­where,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said de­fi­antly. “No­body in our locker room is a quit­ter. We’re go­ing to fight and we’re go­ing to keep go­ing.”

“It’s a tough loss. We made mis­takes there at the end. Give Tem­ple credit, that's a good foot­ball team,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “It was a hard fought game to the end. I feel for our kids. Our kids bat­tled, but it wasn’t good enough.”

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