Navy Defeats SMU 43-40, Are Bowl Eligible Once Again

| November 12, 2017

Navy has seen their fair share of highs and lows this season. They started the season 5-0, they were nationally ranked (#25), and quarterback Zach Abey had just won one of the greatest games in Navy football history against Air Force.

Then the wheels fell off. Navy turned the ball over five times and lost by three to Memphis. They couldn’t find a way to beat UCF despite a strong defensive performance, and they were completely embarrassed by Temple in Philadelphia after their second bye-week of the year.

“I am still bewildered.” Said head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “We were in the Twilight Zone, in La La Land.”

So with the team spiraling and the season slipping away from them, Niumatalolo decided to make a change at quarterback and start Malcolm Perry. “I felt we needed a spark. It was my decision.” Said Niumatalolo.

Perry answered the call in historic fashion. In his first career start at quarterback, he carried the ball 33 times for 282 yards and four touchdowns. The 282 yards are the third most in school history behind Shun White’s 348 yards in 2008 and Eddie Meyers 298 in 1981. The 33 Carries were the most of anyone on the team this season, and the four rushing touchdowns were the most by a Mid since 2016.

Navy came out of the gate aggressive, scoring early and often. Perry ran for 196 yards and three touchdowns in the opening half. This was the second-most rushing yards in a half by a Navy player in school history (White-214).

The highlight of Perry’s performance was a 92-yard run in the second quarter that put the Mids up 27-11. Perry broke his own Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium record for the longest rush when Perry ran for 91 against Air Force as part of their dramatic victory earlier this year. Going into halftime, the Mids were up 34-11, holding SMU’s offense to 11 points with only 175 total yards.

For a defense that had given up 396 yards the week before, including 289 through the air, it was a huge statement. SMU runs a very balanced offense with weapons through the air and on the ground. QB Ben Hicks had thrown for 2,585 yards and 20 touchdowns (ranked 17th and 14th respectively) and has an assortment of talented receivers at his disposal.

Wide receiver Trey Quinn ranks first in the nation with 10 receptions per game and 6th with 102.3 yards per game. Courtland Sutton’s nine touchdown receptions were good for 4th in the country and is listed as the second-best wide receiver in the upcoming NFL Draft according to Mel Kiper Jr. James Porche acts as the SMU deep threat, averaging 21.3 yards per catch. On the ground, SMU boasts a triple threat of rushers. Xavier Jones came into the game with six touchdowns and 700 yards, Braeden west averaged 7.9 yards per carry and Ke’mon Freeman had pounded nine rushing touchdowns on only 95 carries.

“The defense, (in) the first half, we started to get our swagger back and build our confidence back up.” Said Navy defensive captain D.J. Palmore. “(We) kind of let up in the end.”

SMU opened the second half with 9 plays and going 77 yards, capping off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Hicks to Sutton. After forcing a 3 & out on Navy’s opening drive, Hicks found Sutton again on a 49-yard strike that set up a Xavier Jones 3-yard touchdown run. After giving up another Navy touchdown, SMU drove the ball once again, aided by a controversial targeting penalty against Navy safety Sean Williams that put the ball on the Navy 18 yard line, and Hicks found Proche for a 17-yard touchdown pass that brought the Mustangs back within eight points heading into the fourth quarter.

“That’s a tough offense, but we came up with some stops,” said Niuomatalolo, “we got the stops when we needed it.”

Navy opened the fourth quarter failing to convert on fourth down on back to back drives, including a crucial fourth down with just under five minutes left in the game. With three tough yards in front of him, Malcolm Perry was stopped by SMU Cedric Lancaster short of the first down.

”We knew that they love to go for it on fourth down. Everyone knows that about Navy. We were ready for it,” said SMU defensive end Justin Lawler, “The sideline went nuts. It was huge for us. It kept us alive and kept us rolling.”

The energy was electric on the SMU sideline and the momentum spilled over to the Offense. After a short five-yard pass from Hicks to Quinn and an incomplete pass to Sutton, Hicks found Quinn again for 26 yards to put the ball on the Navy 40 yard line. Braeden West rushed for another 11 yards before Hicks found Sutton in the end zone for a 29-yard score and Trey Quinn caught the 2-point conversion that completed the SMU comeback and tied the game at 40.

With 3:32 left in the game, Navy had 79 yards between them and their first win in four weeks. Malcolm Perry opened things up with two runs for 11 yards, but an injury caused Garret Lewis to take over under center.

Two games ago against UCF, Lewis was in a similar predicament when Zach Abey suffered a concussion on the final drive of the game. Lewis marched the Mid’s into the red zone before a poor decision to pitch the ball to Darryl Bonner ended in a Navy fumble.

This time, Lewis ran the option perfectly handing the ball off to Gargiulo for back to back runs totaling 50 yards that put the ball inside the 10-yard line. But instead of scoring the go-ahead touchdown and giving SMU a chance to drive the ball down the field again, Navy opted to stay out of the end zone and give their kicker a chance to win the game.

“We told him not to score,” said Niuomatalolo, “I was going ‘let’s not mess with it and just kick the ball.’ Let J.R. go through his rhythm.”

After a 10 second runoff from an SMU injury timeout, Navy kicker J.R. Osborn converted on an 18-yard field goal and gave Navy the win.

“I still really don’t know what is going on or what happened,” said Osborn, “Tonight my number was called. On the last kick, I just had to go out there and make it.”

Saturday was Senior Day. Navy honored 34 seniors, a class that has compiled a record of 34-15, putting them 3 wins away from tying the school record.

Saturdays win was especially meaningful as the Midshipmen are now bowl eligible for the sixth straight year and 14th time in the past 15 years. Ken Niuomatalolo didn’t miss the recruiting implications of this accomplishment saying “To be bowl eligible again, for this many years, it shows the consistency of our program.”

Navy will play #3 Notre Dame in Southbend this coming weekend. Notre Dame is coming off of a devastating 41-8 blowout loss against Miami.

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About the Author ()

Kevin Chaney was born and raised in Pasadena, MD. He enlisted in the United States Navy in 2007 and served on board the USS Nimitz until 2012. He is now attending the University of Maryland. Follow him on his blog at http://kchaneyreporting.wixsite.com/sports