Trailing by 24 points at halftime on Saturday, Navy seemed down and out. Surely — many thought — there was no way the Midshipmen could erase a deficit that large. Not on the road. Not in that weather. Not in New Orleans. Not against Tulane. And not with the effort that the team had displayed through the first six quarters in the 2020 season.
No, it was more likely that Navy was on its way to another embarrassing blowout loss, like the one BYU handed them in Annapolis on national television to open the season.
But something changed at halftime. Something got into the Mids’ defense, and something clicked within Dalen Morris, the senior quarterback who entered the game midway through the second quarter to relieve the plebe that got the starting nod over him.
Brian Newberry’s unit — led by Tama Tuitele, Diego Fagot and Cameron Kinley — shut the Green Wave down in the second half, keeping them off the scoreboard completely, holding them to just 82 yards and forcing them into a safety.
And on the other end, Morris orchestrated the biggest comeback in Navy football history — a program that’s been playing this little game since 1879.
Morris made some incredible throws and took care of the ball. He completed 6-of-11 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 23 yards, caught a pass for seven yards and completed a pass on a two-point conversion that tied the game up. He then marched the Midshipmen down the field — covering 52 yards in 10 snaps — to set Bijan Nichols up for the walk-off game-winning field goal.
For all of that, Morris is this here blog’s C.I.C. MVP of the Week, and should be the undisputed starter under-center for the Midshipmen for the rest of the season.
Although he was pulled at halftime from the BYU game and was relegated to backing up a freshman against Tulane, Morris’ spirit and confidence never wavered. After head coach Ken Niumatalolo had seen enough of Xavier Arline after a quarter and some change, he called for Morris. The senior grabbed his helmet and said, “Let’s ride. Let’s play ball.”
Morris’ first few drives were unfruitful, but Niumatalolo stuck with him. On the Mids’ second series after halftime, Morris came out slinging, finding Mychal Cooper for a 24-yard gain and completing a 44-yard pass to Mark Walker, which set-up a one-yard punch-in score from fullback Nelson Smith.
Like Navy has done with previous quarterbacks, it rejiggered the offense a bit to play to its quarterback’s strengths. The Mids will still rely heavily on the triple-option, but Morris simply isn’t the runner that Malcolm Perry was. He is, however, a superior passer. And Navy has some real weapons this season that can catch the ball.
“That’s definitely a good feeling, knowing that you’re probably going to put the ball in the air. That’s one thing I love — I love to throw the football,” Morris said during a Zoom call Monday. “... Navy football is always going to be the option. We’re going to run the football. We’re going to be a physical team up front. But we’re going to run the football to open up the pass.”
Big time throw here from Dalen Morris, which set up Nelson Smith’s TD. First touchdown of the season for Navy comes with 6:43 left in Q3 of game No. 2. pic.twitter.com/68Ch765GnZ— Tim Schwartz (@TimSchwartz13) September 19, 2020
After a Jamale Carothers-heavy series that ended with another score for Nelson, Tulane and Navy exchanged three-and-outs, and then the Mids’ defense came up with the safety, putting the ball back in Morris’ hands for a potential game-tying drive.
On the fifth play of that series, Morris kept the drive alive by scampering for four yards on a fourth-and-one. On the next snap, he found Cooper again for 32-yard touchdown pass, then connected with Devin Matthews for the two-point conversion.
“I just think I played looser; just was out there having fun, playing football,” Morris said. “My Dad has a saying, ‘It’s just football when you’re out there.’ Whether it’s prime-time ESPN or it’s the ABC noon kickoff against Tulane, it’s just football. And I think I just got back to that. Not trying to be too perfect. Just going out there and having fun.”
Morris found Cooper again for a key 15-yard pick-up on the game-winning drive. Before setting up for the field goal attempt, he rushed twice for eight yards, inching Nichols a bit more closer to the uprights.
With Morris under-center this season, expect Navy to pass more than usual, and expect him to never give up and to create a few more highlights.
.@CKIII_ on @NavyFB QB Dalen Morris: "I sent him a text Monday...saying he's an inspiration to me. The way he's battled through adversity since he's been here, the way he's kept fighting, the way he's never...let his head hang, it's something we all should take note of."— Glenn Clark (@GlennClarkRadio) September 23, 2020