Mids storm past No. 6 Houston, 46-40
Annapolis, Maryland – In a steady rain storm, the Midshipman of the U. S Naval Academy (4-1, 3-0) rushed for 306 yards against the Houston Cougar defense that allowed an average of 42 yards per game. The Mids turned three turnovers by Heisman candidate Greg Ward Jr. into 17 points to upset the No. 6 ranked team, 46-40. It was the first time since 1984 that the Mids had beaten a Top Ten program and one that visited Navy-Marine Corp Stadium. They had last defeated then-No. 2 South Carolina. Navy QB Will Worth completed three of five passes for 76 yards and two TDs and rushed 32 times for 115 yards and a TD.
LB Josiah Powell intercepted two Ward passes and returned one for a 34-yard TD in the third period to give the Mids a two-TD lead, 34-20. It was thrilling game to attend as we watched the Brigade of Midshipman storm the field to celebrate the Mids’ victory that catapults them into first place alone atop the Western Division of the American Athletic Conference with a 3-0 record.
A week after their first loss of the season to archrival Air Force, the Mids looked lethargic to start the game. After their three and out series, Houston drove right down the field 70 yards in five plays with Ward (32 of 50, 359 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) throwing a 32-yard scoring strike to WR Steven Dunbar in the end zone for a quick lead. On the ensuing kick off, the Mids got the spark they needed early as Dishan Romine returned the kick 85 yards to the Cougars 12-yard line. The momentum built as FB Chris High took it in around the right side to tie it up right away. The Mids attempted an onsides kick and Houston started at the Navy 47 and took a 10-7 lead on Ty Cummings 39-yard FG. Navy countered with another drive resulting in Bennet Moehring’s 24-yard FG to keep pace with the Cougars.
Much to the surprise of this week’s Guest Game Analyst Vince Gallo and me, Navy HC Ken Niumatalolo called for another onsides kick. The result was the same as the previous attempt. Houston started at the 44 and Cummings converted a 36-yard boot for a 13-10 lead early in the second period. We wondered why Niumatalolo spotted six points by giving the No. 6 Cougars great field position on two consecutive kickoffs. Navy’s defense holding them to only two FGs was big against a highly potent offense run by Ward.
Seven rushing plays and 71 yards later, Worth took it over for a two-yard TD and a Navy lead. The Cougars had problems trying to stop Navy’s option, but we figured they would figure it out eventually. When Houston started its next drive, they came out throwing. Ward completed three straight passes for 13, 30, and 11 yards to wide open receivers before he ran out of the pocket for nine. On the next play, he fired a 19-yard scoring pass to Dillon Birden to retake the lead. Navy, however, was not backing down. LB Josiah Powell, wearing jersey # 58 in honor of injured teammate and captain Dan Gonzales, intercepted Ward’s tipped pass to put USNA on their 37.
The Mids lost nine yards on three plays, but a roughing the kicker call put the them back in control of the ball at the Houston 43. As time expired to end the half, Moehring converted a 38-yard FG to knot the score. Vince and I skipped the halftime entertainment to drip-dry with all the other sopping wet fans in the upper deck under the stands during the intermission.
It was a different tailgate Saturday under the rainy conditions. We set up a canopy to stay dry before the game. We made sandwiches and drank beers while Brian Donnelly had his famous Old Bay wings on the grill. Vince, attending his first Navy game and visiting Annapolis for the first time, picked up a couple of huge complimentary garbage bags entering our gate. They were much needed and with rain gear we brought kept us comfortably dry for most of the game. It rained during most of the game, but the lack of wind made the conditions bearable. Once again, parachute jumpers and a flyover had to be cancelled. We found our row one upper deck seats flooded by a couple of inches of water as the downspouts were obviously clogged. We moved back two rows to sit among the many vacated no-show seats but close enough to hear grumbling and shell-shocked Houston fans throughout the game who filled the rows behind us.
The game was a sell-out. Too bad so many missed a fantastic game against the first Top Ten team to come to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in a long time. Like those among our tailgaters including “Navy Al”, we didn’t expect to see a competitive game based on Navy’s previous loss and Houston’s early season successes. The third quarter was especially worth seeing.
A sack of Ward during the first Houston possession resulted in a fumble recovered by DT Patrick Forrestal. Navy’s triple-option offense got right to work at Houston’s 41. Five consecutive runs set up a 17-yard TD pass from Worth (3 of 5, 76 yards, 2 TDs; 32 carries for 115 yards, 1 TD) to Darryl Bonner to put Navy up, 27-20. One minute and one second later, Powell cut in front of Ward’s intended receiver, broke a tackle, and romped 34 yards for another six to give Navy a two-touchdown cushion. The No. 6 team who beat Oklahoma in its season opener drove 91 yards with Ward bringing it across the goal line from eight yards away. To fend off the Cougar comeback, Worth went to the air to complete their next 80-yard drive as he connected 34 yards to Brandon Colon. He crossed the goal line as he caught he ball to once again to extend the Navy lead by 14 points. However, neither team was about to give up.
Houston drove to the Navy 13 as the third period ended. Birden took it over from the two to close the gap once again, but LB D.J. Palmore blocked the PAT to make the score 41-33. Vince noted, “That was big.” He was right. The next Navy drive was halted on fourth down at the Houston 16. The Midshipman defense forced a Cougar punt from their 18, but another special team play contributed to USNA’s margin as the ball sailed way over the punter’s head on the snap – two more points for Navy and the ball back with a 43-33 lead.
Houston attempted an onsides kick from the 20 and Navy recovered to start at the U of H 30, but they only got three as Moehring converted from 40 with 4:38 left to play. Houston drove 70 yards and on a fourth and twelve, Ward (17 carries, 94 yards, 1 TD) fired a 17-yard TD pass to Chance Allen to draw back within six. Houston’s ensuing onsides kick rolled past the Navy hands team where Jarid Ryan jumped on it for the Mids on the 49. USNA punted with :09 left. Nine seconds later, despite all the no-shows, it was the biggest victory celebrations Navy-Marine Corps Stadium hosted in a long time. Navy triumphed, 46-40. Great game! We will be back for more excitement when Navy hosts Tulsa on November 12.
Navy’s next game scheduled originally for Thursday night at East Carolina is now postponed until November 19 due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew in the Greenville area. Their next game is now on October 22 at home against Memphis (4-1, 1-0). Houston (4-1, 2-1), now ranked at No. 13, tries to get back on track next week at home against Tulsa (4-1, 1-0). Don’t believe the media nay-sayers who say Houston can’t make it back to a major bowl game again this year. On November 17, the Cougars host No. 7 Louisville. The Cougars lost to UConn last season and went on to beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl for a 14-1 season in 2015. Of course, if Navy can run the table… Collegefootballfan.com heads to South Bend, Indiana for the first time since September 6, 2003 where we will see a disappointing Notre Dame (2-4) host disappointing Stanford (3-2) whose Heisman candidate, Christian McCaffery, is a little “banged up” according to HC David Shaw. We can still hope for a competitive game and a good time at Notre Dame Stadium.
Extra points: Navy is now ranked No. 25 in this week’s AP poll. The Coaches poll has their heads up their butts again as those guys vote for their own conference foes to bolster their schedule for future considerations. Stupid poll where no one who votes watches any teams but their own and the next one on their schedule.
Houston never did figure out how to stop Navy’s triple option as they allowed 306 rushing yards during the game.
Navy captured every American Athletic Conference Player of the Week award. Worth was named Offensive Player of the week for his performance. Powell garnered Defense with his two INTs, three tackles, and a score extending TD return. Moehring captured Special Teams Player of the week with 14 points. We say Dishan Romine gets “Spark of the Week” with his kick-off return to the Houston 12 that really got the Mids going after an offensive three and out and a Houston TD. Navy showed no life before that. It was what they needed. If not for that return, we envision the outcome many of us were regretfully expecting. In addition, HC Ken Niumatalolo received Honors as the Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week. All the awards were well deserved.
The refs were horrible missing several calls against Houston in critical situations and misplacing a spot later in the game in the wrong direction against Navy. Navy overcame the first missed calls, but came up short on a first down following the second.
We did see Houston play Navy once before back on December 14, 1980 in the Garden State Bowl on a cold, blustery day at Giants Stadium in The Meadowlands. Houston under HC Bill Yeoman, a West Point grad, beat up on Navy, 35-0. We discovered a favorite hang-out for years to come right after the game – Charlie’s Corner (Krajewski’s) in Secaucus
Vince and I did the Federal House for dinner and the Annapolis Cigar Factory after. The Annapolis dock was closed down for the annual boat show. At the “Fed”, we met a young woman whose boyfriend is a Navy grad and currently a pilot but has never attended a Navy football game. We convinced her and her friends to get to a game soon.
Vince is convinced he’ll be back again. He thought the town of Annapolis was great and may plan a weekend there with his wife, Jill. I’m sure he won’t turn down an opportunity to come and tailgate at a future game as well.
A “Boyz weekend” is being planned for November 12 against Tulsa for a noon kick-off. We’ll have to improvise on our Saturday morning schedule so we may enjoy some traditional festivities on Sunday morning.