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Navy holds off Temple in thriller

By KAREEM COPELAND | The Washington Post | Published: October 10, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo admitted his team was embarrassed last week in a 33-point loss to rival Air Force. Entering Saturday's game against Temple, the Midshipmen had played just one half of strong football in three games and were outscored by 85 points in its two losses.

So with the Midshipmen student body allowed to attend - dressed in their standard dress blues, socially distanced throughout Navy-Marines Corps Memorial Stadium - Navy gave its crowd something to cheer Saturday with a thrilling 31-29 win over Temple. The victory was sealed only after the Midshipmen stopped the Owls' two-point conversion attempt with 1:06 remaining and then recovered the ensuing onside kick.

"Just speechless for our program, our players," said Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo, who earned his 100th coaching win. "Coming back after a devastating loss ... Guys battled. Our guys on defense just found a way to make enough plays to win.

"That's who these guys are. That was a devastating loss last week. Hard to overcome losing to one of your rivals in the fashion that we did. But it just shows you the resolve of these guys."

The band was back and cheerleaders performed in the grassy knoll behind the northern end zone. Another adjustment was the return of normal benches on the Navy side after the team used individual chairs that were spaced out to promote social distancing.

It wasn't quite normal, but it was a completely different feel from the hollow opener against Brigham Young that ended with a 55-3 loss. The Midshipmen students were clearly thrilled to be in attendance, roaring for the Crab Race game on the video board and sprinting out of the stands to do pushups after a score.

The home crowd got a scare when Temple climbed within two points on Re-Mahn Davis's one-yard touchdown run. The Owls were looking to for overtime, but Terrell Adams broke up the two-point pass in the flat.

Fullback Nelson Smith led Navy with 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, posting his second career 100-yard game. The Midshipmen (2-2, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) rushed for 251 yards, taking advantage of a Temple team playing its season opener and a defensive unit that has just three returning starters. Jamale Carothers added 53 rushing yards and a score.

"We absolutely needed this win, especially after last week," Smith said. "There was a lot of stuff going out about like, Navy's soft now or whatever. This, that and the other. We had to come out and prove them wrong."

Dalen Morris settled the erratic play at quarterback after missing the Air Force game due to a noninjury medical condition.

Temple quarterback Anthony Russo threw for 206 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Davis finished with 97 yards and a score.

The Midshipmen went into halftime with a 21-10 lead and looked to be in command. Temple had no answer for the run game, getting bullied from the Midshipmen's opening drive that culminated with Carothers scoring from the 1. The drive last 17 plays (all runs), ate up 75 yards and took 9:38 off the clock.

Navy's second drive was more of the same, set up by a 48-yard kickoff return by Myles Fells to start in Temple territory. Chance Warren took a pitch around the left end for a two-yard touchdown, but it was a 36-yard pass-and-catch from Morris to CJ Williams that set up the score. Williams rumbled for the long gain, bouncing off teammates and defenders alike.

The Midshipmen made it three touchdowns in three drives when Carothers fired through the center of the defense, nearly untouched, for a 26-yard touchdown. A backside screen on fourth and 6 from Morris to Mychal Cooper kept the drive alive and Carothers scored two plays later.

While Navy was racking up the yardage on the ground - 145 in the first half - Temple (0-1) was the exact opposite. Russo made one big throw after another to keep the Owls within reach against Navy's shorthanded defense. The Midshipmen were missing four starters because of injury. Linebackers Diego Fagot and Tama Tuitele, safety Evan Foctman and nose guard Sio Saipaia all missed the game.

Russo took advantage and threw for 147 yards in the first 30 minutes and ran a quarterback draw for a two-yard touchdown run to cut the Navy lead to 14-10.

Despite being shorthanded, Navy's defense delivered a huge play late in the first half when John Marshall undercut a Russo pass intended for Jadan Blue inside the Navy 20 with 38 seconds remaining before halftime. Russo stared down the receiver the entire time and Marshall simply followed his eyes for the interception.

The Navy defense wasn't dominant, allowing 407 yards, but made the plays it needed. Next up is a trip to East Carolina next week.