Owls send Midshipmen to third straight defeat
Change of quarterbacks doesn’t reverse Navy’s fading fortunes
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.”