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Navy gives up big lead, rallies late to beat SMU in thriller, 43-40

STRIPES ILLUSTRATION

By AVA WALLACE | The Washington Post | Published: November 11, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — For all the impressive work put in by Navy sophomore Malcolm Perry - 282 yards on the ground, third-most in program history - the quarterback was on crutches for the deciding moments of a 43-40 win over Southern Methodist at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Instead, it was junior fullback Anthony Gargiulo who broke runs of 21 and 29 yards to key the Midshipmen's 10-play, 78-yard drive, setting up J.R. Osborn's 18-yard field goal as time expired to snap Navy's three-game losing streak.

Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo and his staff determined the key to ending the streak would be speed. The Midshipmen needed to think less, play faster on offense and react quicker on defense.

To do this, Niumatalolo installed Perry at quarterback to replace starter Zach Abey, who was injured Nov. 2 against Temple but practiced during the week. The plan worked, as Perry had touchdown runs of 92 yards - the second-longest touchdown run in program history - and 24 yards. His 196 yards at halftime was the second most in school history amassed in one half. Perry flaunted not only his speed but his elusiveness, and he led the Mids to a 34-11 lead at halftime.

Abey, who injured his left, non-throwing shoulder in the loss to Temple, watched Perry from the sideline. The junior missed Monday's practice this week but was active Tuesday and Wednesday and was dressed and on the sideline Saturday, wearing a red ball cap underneath his headset.

The Midshipmen (6-3, 4-3 American Athletic Conference) rushed for 559 yards and averaged 7.7 yards per play, far above the 5.1 yards per play they've averaged over their past three losses. Navy only bothered to throw the ball once, and Perry's lone attempt resulted in an interception.

Supporting Perry was Gargiulo, who had 145 yards on the ground and one a three-yard touchdown run to notch his first career 100-yard rushing game, and senior fullback Chris High, who scored on a two-yard run.

Navy's defense did its part to support Perry in the first half, holding SMU (6-4, 3-3) to 173 yards of total offense before intermission while the Mids racked up 357. But the Mustangs' offense reloaded after halftime and scored on all three of its possessions in the third quarter while Navy sputtered.

On SMU's final drive of the third quarter, Navy safety Sean Williams was called for targeting. The penalty comes with an ejection and also means the Mids' top defensive back will miss the first half of next week's game at Notre Dame. Mustangs wide receiver James Proche grabbed a 17-yard touchdown pass two plays later to shrink Navy's lead to 40-32 and to twist the knife, senior linebacker D.J. Palmore was called for roughing the passer on the final play of the series. The penalty put SMU on the 50 for kickoff.

The eight-point margin held until SMU's final drive, which covered 71 yards in five plays and was sealed with Ben Hicks's 29-yard pass to Courtland Sutton. The Mustangs completed the two-point conversion to tie it at 40 with 3:32 remaining, setting the stage for one final piece of drama.

Perry started the drive with a pair of runs for 11 yards before suffering a lower-body injury. Gargiulo, Darryl Bonner and Garret Lewis ended it at the SMU 1. Osborn took it from there.

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