Mids wary of un­der­dog Ford­ham

Rams, rid­ing 4-year wave of suc­cess in FCS, ea­ger to knock off FBS op­po­nent

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner

“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.

JOSHUA MCKERROW/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

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