A lot has been and will continue to be made about freshman Bijan Nichols’ field goal that gave Navy a 41-38 victory over Tulane yesterday as time expired, sending the Midshipmen to a 6-1 record, bowl eligibility for the 15th time in 17 seasons, and back in the thick of things in November in the AAC West race. The Plebe (USNA lingo for a freshman) was immediately thrust into Mids’ lore, and if he hasn’t already, he should probably just ride this wave right up to his Firsties (USNA lingo for seniors) and demand they take it easy on his fellow classmates the rest of the year. Or perhaps at least until December 15th. Kicking a 48 yard game-winner into the wind with yards and yards to spare...it doesn’t get much better than that.
But there was more to this game than just Nichols’ big leg. In fact, if Nichols was Navy’s hero on Saturday, then the star next to the N had to be Jamale Carothers. The Youngster (USNA lingo for sophomore) from Bowling Green has surged onto the scene in the last few weeks, and he made quite a statement out of the gates for Navy on Saturday. Navy’s first three possessions on offense all resulted in touchdowns scored by Carothers, the first two on the ground and the third through the air. The craziest part was that he went untouched on all three of them! Just for good measure, and to prove he was capable of doing more than bursting through a hole and throwing on the jets, the converted slot back would add a fourth touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Navy needed it most, breaking a tackle and then dragging a defender to the goal line in the process.
The game couldn’t have started any better for the Mids as they ran the ball at will on the Green Wave on their first four possessions, scoring on all four on the aforementioned Carothers three TDs and a Nichols FG to put them up 24-0. While the offense was clicking, the defense was firing on all cylinders once again as well. They forced three straight three and outs on the first three possessions for the Green Wave, holding Tulane to just 12 yards of offense in the first quarter.
However, we knew that Justin McMillan and company were too good not to make adjustments and find their groove, and they did just that by scoring touchdowns on their next two drives to make it 24-14. However, just when it looked like they were going to climb back into the game, sophomore Diego Fagot took an errant throw by McMillan, juggled it about four times, and then rumbled into the endzone for an interception returned for a TD, the first one of those in three seasons for Navy. A missed FG by the Green Wave would leave the score at 31-14 heading into halftime.
Navy got an interception from standout sophomore corner Michael McMorris to start the third quarter, but after that it was like the first half was literally flipped as Navy had two three and outs and an interception in their first three drives of the second half and Tulane scored two TDs and a FG on their next three possessions to tie the game up at 31 a piece. But, if we learned anything from the Air Force game this year, it should be that when the game is on the line, don’t ever count Malcolm Perry out.
All he did was engineer a 10 play drive that included not one, but two fourth down conversions by the QB, a 38 yard scramble that setup the Carothers 15 yard defender-dragging scamper into the endzone to put Navy back on top 38-31. Tulane would answer right back with a touchdown of their own, but the offense would simply turn to their most steady playmaker with only a minute to go, as Perry kept it on every play for gains of 9, 2, 10, 21, and 2 yards to get to the Green Wave 33 and give Nichols the chance to cement himself in Navy folklore.
I want to take a second (and will probably take the time to write a whole article on the subject) to point out just how bright the future currently looks for Navy football. Yes, Malcolm Perry still factored into this game in a big way, but the other names that had standout moments, Nichols, Carothers, Fagot, and McMorris, are all freshmen or sophomores. I can’t remember the last time that so many young players were making this big of an impact on the Navy football team, and if you are a fan of the Mids, you have to be excited about what the next few years hold in every phase of the game!
Now, back to the current situation that the Mids find themselves in, and well, pack your bags Navy fans, because we’re bowling again!
Getting to a bowl game is all well and good, but this is a team that has now accomplished goal number one, and just goal number one. There are still a couple more out there left to tackle. Having the Trident Trophy (no, it’s not real...yet) back in Annapolis was huge because it put Navy square into contention for the AAC West Division race. It would have been real nice if Tulsa could have finished off Memphis last night, but with UConn, SMU, and Houston still remaining in conference play, the Mids will have plenty of chances to make more statements in future weeks. The Tigers still have multiple top 20 matchups left in conference, including a huge showdown with undefeated SMU next weekend at the Liberty Bowl.
Then there’s that other goal waiting on December 14th, but that’s another topic for another day. Right now, we’re going to bask in another huge home victory for the Mids, and get ready for UConn.