Mids find spark but can’t avoid 7th straight loss

Navy of­fense finds a spark in loss to No. 12 UCF

The Capital - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Wag­ner bwag­ner@capgaznews.com

NO. 12 CEN­TRAL FLORIDA 35, NAVY 24

OR­LANDO – Navy’s of­fense may fi­nally have found its stride dur­ing the sec­ond half of Satur­day’s game against 12th-ranked Cen­tral Florida.

An­other big half­time deficit along with the con­tin­ued in­abil­ity to get a de­fen­sive stop doomed the strug­gling Mid­ship­men to a sev­enth straight de­feat. How­ever, there was a sil­ver lin­ing as the of­fense put to­gether sev­eral long drives.

Quar­ter­back McKen­zie Mil­ton put on a show with both his arm and legs as UCF re­mained un­beaten by han­dling Navy, 35-24, be­fore an an­nounced crowd of 44,738 at Spec­trum Sta­dium.

Mil­ton com­pleted 17 of 21 passes for 200 yards and two touch­downs to lead Cen­tral Florida, which raced to a 21-0 lead then sim­ply outscored Navy the rest of the way. The tal­ented 5-foot-11, 185-pound ju­nior also ran for 62 yards and a score as the Knights im­proved to 9-0 over­all and 6-0 in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence.

Tail­backs Adrian Killins and Greg McCrae com­bined for 184 rush­ing yards for UCF, which punted on the game’s open­ing pos­ses­sion then did not do so again un­til late in the fourth quar­ter. Head coach Josh He­u­pel, who serves as his own of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, did a su­perb job of mix­ing the run and pass as the Knights rolled up 497 to­tal yards.

Quar­ter­back Zach Abey di­rected three touch­down drives as the Mid­ship­men man­aged to move the chains con­sis­tently enough for of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ivin Jasper to get into a play-call­ing rhythm.

Jasper was able to mix triple-op­tion plays with mid-line op­tion calls while get­ting the quar­ter­back, full­backs and slot­backs in­volved as Navy amassed 374 rush­ing yards, sec­ond-high­est to­tal of the sea­son.

“We got it go­ing in the sec­ond half. I thought we played a re­ally good sec­ond

half,” Abey said. “Those guys up front did a re­ally good job, we got con­fi­dent, had some nice play calls and showed what we could do.”

Abey rushed for 85 yards and two touch­downs on 26 car­ries to lead Navy (2-8, 1-5), which now has its long­est los­ing streak since the 2002 sea­son that re­sulted in a 2-10 record. This marks just the sec­ond los­ing sea­son for the Mid­ship­men since that for­get­table year, the first un­der for­mer head coach Paul John­son.

Slot­back Tre Walker added 82 rush­ing yards with more than half com­ing on a long run that set up a field goal to­ward the end of an oth­er­wise dis­ap­point­ing first half for Navy. Slot­back Mal­colm Perry con­trib­uted 69 yards on nine car­ries.

Navy’s full­backs had their most pro­duc­tive out­ing since the sea­son opener at Hawaii with Mike Martin team­ing with starter An­thony Gargiulo to to­tal 105 yards. Gargiulo ground his way up the mid­dle for 54 tough yards on nine at­tempts while Martin was very ef­fec­tive in a lim­ited role with 51 yards on just four totes.

“That’s who we are, that’s what we have to be,” Abey said of the bal­ance among the var­i­ous ball-car­ri­ers.

Abey led Navy on a pair of 75-yard touch­down drives that lasted 11 and 10 plays, re­spec­tively. The Arch­bishop Spald­ing prod­uct scored on runs of 5 and 8 yards as the Mids pos­sessed the ball for more than 23 min­utes in the sec­ond half.

“We’ve al­ways had it in us. I know lots of peo­ple say we suck this year, but we don’t,” Abey said. “Halfway through the sec­ond quar­ter we re­al­ized we can play with these dudes. Our of­fen­sive line­men were knock­ing those guys off the ball. You could tell they were get­ting tired.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Navy, many of the is­sues that have de­railed the of­fense through­out the seven-game los­ing streak cropped up dur­ing the first half.

Walker took a pitchout and raced 15 yards down the left side­line as the Mids ap­proached mid­field on their sec­ond pos­ses­sion. Abey fol­lowed with a nice gain into Cen­tral Florida ter­ri­tory, but had the ball stripped by free safety Richie Grant. Mid­dle line­backer Pat Jask­in­ski re­cov­ered for the Knights, who cap­i­tal­ized on the turnover by scor­ing a touch­down.

Abey was mak­ing the right reads and do­ing a good job of dis­tribut­ing the ball as Navy drove into UCF ter­ri­tory on its next pos­ses­sion as well. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound se­nior gained 4 yards on fourth-and-three at his own 32-yard line to keep the drive alive.

The Mids faced an­other fourth down sit­u­a­tion eight plays later and this time Abey did not con­vert. On fourth-and-one from the UCF 33-yard line, Abey dropped the snap from cen­ter Ford Hig­gins and was smoth­ered for a 1-yard loss.

“We just had a lot of mis­takes in the first half. We had two drives that we could have scored on and that would have made it a dif­fer­ent game,” Abey ac­knowl­edged. “Those mis­takes in the first quar­ter, mis­takes by me, are what we’ve got to elim­i­nate.”

Those two lost of­fen­sive op­por­tu­ni­ties were piv­otal be­cause Mil­ton and com­pany could not be stopped in the first half. Mil­ton threw the ball ac­cu­rately and killed Navy with well-timed scram­bles out of the pocket as Cen­tral Florida put to­gether touch­down drives of 86, 62 and 75 yards in grab­bing the 21-0 lead mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter.

“Zach didn’t start off so well. That turnover hurt us and so did the botched cen­ter-QB ex­change,” Navy head coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “Those two plays are huge. Those are two pos­ses­sions you can’t lose against this team. If we score on those we’re right in the game.”

A per­fectly-ex­e­cuted triple-op­tion play wound up with Walker tak­ing a pitch and ram­bling 46 yards to the UCF 14-yard line. Navy had sec­ond-and-goal from the 3-yard line when right tackle An­drew Wood com­mit­ted a false start that proved costly. In­stead of scor­ing a touch­down, the Mids had to set­tle for a 24-yard field goal by kicker Ben­nett Moehring.

“Yea, the sec­ond half was en­cour­ag­ing, but the first half was just the way this sea­son has been go­ing. We had some promis­ing drives that we couldn’t fin­ish,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jasper said.

“It’s been a tale of two halves all sea­son long. We found some things and got it go­ing in the sec­ond half, but we have to do that for a whole game. This play­ing well for one half is un­ac­cept­able,” Jasper added.

PHE­LAN M. EBENHACK/AP

Navy full­back Mike Martin (34) rushes for a 14-yard touch­down be­tween Cen­tral Florida de­fen­sive back Aaron Robin­son, left, and line­backer Nate Evans dur­ing the sec­ond half Satur­day, in Or­lando, Fla.

PHO­TOS BY PHE­LAN M. EBENHACK/AP

Cen­tral Florida run­ning back Adrian Killins Jr. is tack­led by Navy safety Ja­cob Springer af­ter rush­ing for yardage as de­fen­sive back Michael McMor­ris (5) watches dur­ing the first half.

Navy quar­ter­back Zach Abey fum­bles in front of Cen­tral Florida de­fen­sive back Kyle Gib­son dur­ing a late drive in the first half.

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