ANNAPOLIS, MD — Momentum is prevalent in sports, and for the second consecutive week, Navy has gotten bit by a tough turn of events.
After a strong first half, Mids’ kicker Bijan Nichols lined up for a 51-yard field goal to try and take the lead over the number two team in the country, Cincinnati, heading into halftime. Cincinnati would block the kick though, and return it to their 34, kicking their own 51-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead at the break.
“I just thought man, you’ve got to be kidding,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said postgame. “I should’ve done a better job at the end of that half.”
Cincinnati would not look back from there, scoring 17 consecutive points and winning the game by a final score of 27-20, holding off a late comeback effort from the Mids.
The Midshipmen’s offense struggled for most of the afternoon, picking up 135 yards of offense after a 79-yard drive to open the scoring in the first quarter. It wouldn’t pick up again until the fourth quarter.
Navy would score 10 unanswered points in that fourth quarter though, which included an onside kick recovery. That luck didn’t last all that long as Tai Lavatai would throw an interception, completing the victory and continuing the unbeaten season for the No. 2 Bearcats.
On the bright side, Navy’s defense showed toughness throughout the afternoon as Cincinnati was held to their lowest total yardage in 19 games. The Bearcats totaled just 271 yards in Annapolis.
Lavatai had a great game as well, rushing for a score and passing for a career-high 116 yards on the afternoon.
On the defensive side, Jamal Glenn had a career day, picking up 11 tackles, an interception, and recovering the onside kick that gave Navy one last chance.
“We had a great gameplan, and we just did a good job executing it for the most part,” Glenn said.
If it weren’t for bad field position, and that bad break before halftime, this could’ve very well been a different story.
But that’s sports.
Lavatai should throw the ball more
Heading into Saturday’s game, Lavatai threw the ball a total of 21 times in four games. On Saturday, he nearly matched that total with 15 passing attempts.
You could tell this caught Cincinnati off guard, and obviously so when Navy is typically known for its ground-and-pound triple option attack.
Eight of his 11 completions were for seven or more yards. He threw for a career-high 116 yards, and it complemented perfectly with the 192 yards the Midshipmen had on the ground.
“I thought our kids played well, man. They fought their butts off. I was proud of Tai,” Niumatalolo said.
With a game like he had on Saturday, Lavatai showed that the quarterback position should be in good hands for years to come.
Midshipmen defense was strong
Navy held Cincinnati to its lowest amount of total yardage on Saturday since November of 2019 against Temple. That was 19 games ago. The Midshipmen also held the 6th ranked scoring offense in the country to under 38 points for the second time this season. Cincinnati’s victory at Notre Dame was the only other time that happened.
On the ground, outside of the 43-yard rushing touchdown from Jerome Ford, he had 47 yards on 14 carries. Ford ranks 14th in the country in rushing yards.
Desmond Ridder, who is a projected NFL Draft pick, completed 60% of his passes and threw an interception.
“Our goal was to stop the run, and see if we could confuse the quarterback,” Niumatalolo said. “I thought our defense played really really well.”
The Midshipmen have really struggled on the defensive side of the ball of late, but if they continue to play like this, they could reel off a couple of victories.
Marquel Haywood looked good taking back kicks
After averaging 21.8 yards per return on kickoffs this season, Niumatalolo made a change on who is returning kickoffs. This week, it was Maquel Haywood’s chance and he capitalized.
Before the Cincinnati game, Haywood returned one kick for 38 yards. On Saturday, he had three returns for a total of 92 yards including one for 48 yards.
“Really excited about him,” Niumatalolo said.
He is yet another freshman who seemed to carve out a long-term roll with his play this weekend.
The Midshipmen will have yet another short week as they travel to Tulsa for a Friday night matchup. Kickoff will take place at 7:30 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.