In Navy’s home opener at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Midshipmen improved dramatically from Week 1 in a 22-21 victory over the Memphis Tigers. Defense and weather were the story of the game. In week 1, Navy allowed 59 points to Hawaii, including 436 passing yards and six touchdowns to Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald. In Memphis’ first game, the Tigers scored 66 points and totaled 752 offensive yards. The Navy defense knew it had its hands full with this Memphis offense. However, the Midshipmen came to play.
On the first drive of the game, Navy forced a fumble and recovered the ball in Memphis territory. This set the tone for the game. While Navy was able to get the ball down to the 4 yards line and a 1st and goal situation, the Midshipmen were forced to settle for a 23 yard field goal by senior placekicker, Bennett Moehring.
Following the field goal made by Moehring on Navy’s first drive of the game, the defense came back out on the field still ready to play. The Tigers were forced to punt after a three and out. This defensive stand was quite the turn around from last week’s game where the Midshipmen were down 0-14 after the first two times their defense took the field against Hawaii.
During the three and out series, the ball appeared to have slipped out of Memphis quarterback, Brady White’s, hand while attempting a pass. From this point on, Memphis’ passing game was extremely limited. It was clear that the heavy rain throughout the game was going to play a huge factor.
Essentially, the rain acted as an extra defender in Navy’s secondary. Passes were continuously under thrown by White, and receivers struggled to catch passes that normally would likely have been caught. White attempted only 25 passes throughout the game, completing 15 of them. White finished with 145 yards, one interception, and zero touchdowns. This differed significantly from White’s performance in Week 1, where he completed 79 percent of his passes, for 358 yards and five touchdowns. Navy was able to complete take away the Tiger’s air attack, and force them to keep the ball on the ground.
Navy’s defense held Memphis to only 21 points while forcing three turnovers. Additionally, Navy had only one penalty, which was a sideline infraction from celebrating after the 4th and 3 stand with less than 2 minutes left in the game. The Midshipmen’s ability to limit penalties and force turnovers gave the offense a chance to do its job and put points up on the board. And the offense did exactly that when it mattered most.
Offense Rallies in the Fourth Quarter
The Midshipmen scored their first touchdown right before halftime after junior quarterback Malcolm Perry scrambled into the end zone for a seven yard score. This score assisted in shifting the momentum in favor of Navy heading into the third quarter. Additionally, the Midshipmen received the ball first in the second half. Although it did not result in a score for Navy, it meant Memphis was not able to get off to a quick start early in the third quarter.
Navy’s offense was quiet to start the second half. Perry was in and out of the game a couple times during the third quarter, forcing the senior, Garrett Lewis, to temporarily fill in. Though Lewis was unable to lead the Midshipmen to a score, he kept the offense moving down the field and showed great ability should Perry have been out for longer. By the end of the third quarter, Perry was back in the game, and appeared to have shaken off any discomfort experienced during the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Midshipmen offense came back roaring. The defense forced another fumble, and it only took two plays for Navy to find the end zone. Perry highlighted his athleticism and quickness by weaving and dodging defenders from every direction, resulting in a 17 yard rushing touchdown. This brought the game to within five points.
Moehring Sets Navy Record
Bennett Moehring knocked in an extra point after Perry’s touchdown. With this kick, Moehring passed Nick Sloan as Navy’s all-time leader in extra points with 113.
The Memphis Tigers were forced to punt on the subsequent possession, and the Midshipmen got the ball on their own 44 yard line after an eight yard punt return by Jacob Springer, with 9:28 left on the clock. Malcolm Perry then took Navy nearly seven minute, 13 play, 56 yard drive, capping off with a Zach Abey three yard touchdown run. After a failed two point conversion attempt, the score was 22-21, Navy, and 2:35 left on the clock.
The Final Stand
Navy kicker Owen White was instructed to squib kick the kickoff in order to keep the ball out of the hands of Memphis returner Tony Pollard. The Tigers began their final desperation drive on their own 32 yard line. With the first play, Brady White dumped the ball off to Darrell Henderson who had already rushed for 3 touchdowns on the game. Henderson gained 18 yards on the reception. On the next play, Memphis handed the ball off to Henderson for a 15 yard run. With the ball now on the Navy 40, Memphis handed the ball off to..yup, you guessed it, Henderson. But this time, Navy tackled him after only a six yard gain.
Facing 4th and 4, with 1:33 left on the clock Memphis decides to go for it rather than attempt the field goal. Memphis kicker Riley Patterson was warming up for a game-winning field goal attempt on the sideline. However, Patterson’s career long is 42 yards and he would have been looking at a 52 yarder.
On the Navy sideline, Coach Ken Niumatalolo put his head down as he knelt on one knee, deep in prayer as he often does when the game comes down to the last play. The ball is snapped. Niumatalolo stays on his knee with his head down. The crowd cheers after Brady White is sacked for a one yard loss. Coach Niumatalolo finally picks his head up to see his defense made the final stand.
The 22-21 victory for the Midshipmen puts them in the drivers seat of the AAC West, giving them their first conference win and essentially a two game lead over the Tigers moving forward. This double digit fourth quarter comeback, in the pouring rain, with conference positioning on the line, is not one Navy will soon forget.
Navy hosts Lehigh, same time, same place in Annapolis on 9/15 at 3:30 PM EDT on CBSSN