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Navy erases 24-point deficit to beat Tulane in a thriller

With Dalen Morris leading the way, the Midshipmen engineered an incredible second half comeback in New Orleans. Time expired as Bijan Nichols kicked 33-yard field goal.

NCAA Football: Navy at Tulane Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

After a 55-3 loss to the BYU Cougars, Navy football had some serious introspection on its agenda.

Additionally, when Perry Olsen — who many expected to start at quarterback heading into their game against Tulane — entered the transfer portal, that doubt deepened and more questions surfaced.

And even after going down by 24 points early, the Midshipmen put it all behind them. The Men of Ken engineered a terrific second-half comeback to win 27-24 on Saturday, on a rain-soaked field in New Orleans.

Here’s how it all went down:

First Half Struggles

To the surprise of many, freshman Xavier Arline was given the start at quarterback. Arline, who was a top lacrosse recruit out of high school (and initially committed to UNC to play both sports), looked uncomfortable but not completely lost after the first few drives. Regardless, the Navy offense got off to a terrible start. The Midshipmen accumulated only 49 yards in the first half. Ultimately, Arline was pulled in the middle of the second quarter and senior Dalen Morris, who started the first game of the year, was back under center.

NCAA Football: Navy at Tulane Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Conversely, the Green Wave attack had little stopping them from moving the ball down field. Tulane’s Tyjae Spears rushed for 119 yards on the day with most of them coming in the first half.

By halftime, the Green Wave led Navy, 24-0 and almost all hope seemed to be lost for the Midshipmen.

Turning Point

Offensive woes seemed to subside on Navy’s initial offensive drive after halftime, but they were unable to convert a few first downs into points when Bijan Nichols missed a 57-yard field goal. Ken Niumatalolo’s decision to take such a long field goal, in a game where rain never stopped, seemed desperate to say the least.

Although this drive didn’t result in points on the board, many would agree it was the turning point in the game.

Navy’s defense improved too after halftime and began to dominate Tulane, stopping all the momentum the Green Wave had in the first half. On the subsequent offensive possession, Dalen Morris completed two big passes to Mychal Cooper and Mark Walker that quickly led to a Nelson Smith touchdown run.

The Midshipmen defense got another three-and-out to give the ball back to the offense.

Navy scored on a 61-yard drive that could be accredited to Jamale Carothers’ 48-yard up the middle to the Tulane two-yard line. Nelson Smith punched the ball in on his second score of the game and put Navy within 10 points, 24-14.

In all, Smith had six carries for 22 yards and two scores.

Navy failed to get a first down on their next possession, but Daniel Davies’ 63-yard punt was downed on the one-yard line and put Tulane’s offense on their heels.

Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry opted to send the house with the Green Wave backed up into their own end-zone, and his risk was rewarded. The Midshipmen team-tackled Tulane’s Cameron Carroll for a safety, bringing the game within one possession, 24-16.

Fourth Quarter Comeback

Mark Walker got a solid 34-yard return on the kick after the safety, which put the Midshipmen in decent field possession. The exceptional play-calling on this drive allowed Morris to connect with Cooper on a 32-yard pass for a touchdown. Navy converted the two-point conversion, tying the score.

With about 13 minutes to play, the Navy defense bent, but it did not break. Both of Tulane’s fourth quarter drives failed to end in scores.

After a turnover-on-downs, Morris and his offensive crew were given the ball back on their own 48-yard line with just 4:41 seconds to go. After 10 plays, including huge runs by Jamale Carothers, the Midshipmen set up Bijan Nichols to attempt a 33-yard field goal as time expired.

Just as Nichols did last year against the Green Wave, he crushed the kick between the uprights and won the game for the Mids.

Navy bounced back from a bad loss against BYU with a huge team win away from home. They are now set to take on the Air Force Falcons in two weeks in the first of this year’s games in the C.I.C. series.

NCAA Football: Navy at Tulane Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports