Mids wary of underdog Fordham
Rams, riding 4-year wave of success in FCS, eager to knock off FBS opponent
“Scary.” That’s how coach Ken Niumatalolo describes Navy’s season opener against Fordham.
The Rams are a Football Championship Subdivision team with the ability to pull off an upset of a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent such as the Midshipmen. Fordham compiled a 38-14 record with three playoff appearances and a Patriot League championship from 2012 to 2015.
The Rams also had two victories over FBS schools during that time, upsetting Temple in 2012 and Army West Point in 2015.
“You’re always nervous going into the first game, but this one makes me really nervous,” Niumatalolo said. “You don’t win that many games the last four years like they’ve done without being a really good football team. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”
Each year, the start of the college football season features several matchups between FCS and FBS programs. There have already been a few near-upsets, with ninth-ranked Tennessee escaping with a 20-13 overtime win over Appalachian State and Connecticut needing a field goal with 11 seconds left to edge Maine, 24-21, on Thursday night.
The pressure will be on Navy when it hosts Fordham at noon today in Annapolis. And the underdog Rams come to NavyMarine Corps Memorial Stadium with nothing to lose.
“That is exactly the way I presented it to the players. This is a great opportunity for our program,” first-year Fordham head coach Andrew Breiner said. “Navy is a premier FBS program, a consistent winner that ended last season in the Top 25. What better way to start the season than against a team of this caliber?”
The Mids have had winning records in 12 of the past 13 seasons. Niumatalolo enters his ninth year at the helm as the winningest coach in school history with a 68-37 mark.
“Navy has good players, is extremely well-coached and plays the game the right way,” Breiner said. “We pride ourselves on the same things. We are going to embrace this opportunity and strive to put our best foot forward.”
The Rams fielded one of the most prolific offenses in the FCS during the four-year tenure of coach Joe Moorhead, who stepped down in December to become offensive coordinator at Penn Ken Niumatalolo enters his ninth year as Navy’s head coach this season as the winningest coach in school history (68-37). He said Fordham makes him “really nervous.” State. Breiner, who served as offensive coordinator under Moorhead, was promoted to replace his mentor.
Fordham returns a pair of standouts in quarterback Kevin Anderson and running back Chase Edmonds.
Edmonds is a two-time consensus All- American, having rushed for 3,486 yards and 43 touchdowns in two seasons. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound junior, who briefly considered transferring to an FBS school during the offseason, should set program career records in rushing and scoring this season.
“Chase Edmonds is as good a back as we’ll see this season,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s a very dynamic runner who gets the tough yards between the tackles and can also take it to the house.”
Anderson led the Patriot League and was third in the FCS in passing touchdowns (32) and passing efficiency (170.2). The 6-2, 215-pound senior led the league and was fifth nationally in completion percentage (.670).
“Anderson is a really good quarterback. He’s athletic and can move. He can throw every ball with great accuracy,” Niumatalolo said.
The Rams also have a massive tight end in 6-8, 250-pound Phazahn Odom, who had seven touchdown catches in 2015.
Anderson passed for 322 yards while Edmonds accounted for 250 yards from scrimmage as the Rams upset the Black Knights, 37-35, in last season’s opener. Breiner said Fordham knows it can compete against the Mids, who narrowly beat Army, 21-17, in the season-ending game between the archrivals.
“Beating Army was a thrilling experience for our players and it does give us confidence going into this game,” Breiner said.
Niumatalolo does not doubt their self-assurance: “They definitely have to be confident. They’ve got a good program, have won a ton of games and been to the playoffs three straight seasons. Why wouldn’t they be confident?” he said.
Last year’s meeting with the Black Knights gave the Rams a taste of a triple-option offense, which they will face today. Army rushed for 306 yards but hurt itself with two turnovers and penalties.
“From a defensive perspective, we’ve seen the triple-option before, and that takes the newness away,” Breiner said. “Now Navy runs a different type of option than Army and does so very, very well. Nonetheless, I think we’re in a better position to defend the option than we were at this time last year.”
Navy’s offense will feature almost an entirely new cast as senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman is the lone returning starter. Left tackle Blake Copeland and left guard Adam West are the most experienced members of an offensive line with five first-time starters.
Amongthe departed are a pair of players who have spent this month auditioning for the NFL — quarterback Keenan Reynolds (Ravens) and fullback Chris Swain (San Diego Chargers).
Senior Shawn White was supposed to succeed Swain as the first option in Navy’s offense, but he missed two weeks with a foot injury and fell behind. Junior Chris High, who only has five career carries, will get the start today.
Although not a starter a year ago, Dishan Romine was the Midshipmen’s most dangerous slotback, ranking third on the team with 378 rushing yards. The senior averaged 10.5 yards per carry last season.