Perry sparks fourth-quarter rally as Navy beats Memphis, 22-21
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: September 8, 2018
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Navy’s offense was pretty much the Malcolm Perry show throughout Saturday’s home opener against Memphis. For most of the game, that performance played to poor reviews as the junior quarterback oversaw an offense that struggled mightily.
However, Perry and the rest of the offense displayed tremendous competitive spirit and determination when it mattered most.
Perry pulled it together and directed two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter as Navy pulled out an improbable 22-21 victory over Memphis before an announced crowd of 31,762 in a steady downpour on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“What a game! I’m getting too old for this kind of stuff. These games are not good on the heart,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I’m really proud of our players – just their resolve and their grit and how resilient they are.
“A lot of times during that game today things looked really bleak for us. To beat a really good team like Memphis that is going to win a lot of games, we feel very fortunate,” Niumatalolo added.
Perry rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 36 carries to lead the offense, which sputtered for the better part of three quarters. Owen White punted the ball six times while a lost fumble by backup quarterback Garret Lewis ended another possession as the Mids managed just nine points through through three periods.
“We didn’t play great offensively, but we played well enough to win because the defense gave us a chance,” Niumatalolo said. “We did just enough on offense at the end to get the W. We had one more point than them and that’s all that matters.”
Navy’s defense did a tremendous job of holding the fort, forcing four turnovers (three fumbles and an interception) to keep the home team in striking distance. It was the third Memphis fumble, caused by safety Juan Hailey, which sparked the late rally.
Wide receiver-quarterback Zach Abey was outstanding in his unique specialty role for the second straight game to start the season. The Archbishop Spalding product replaced Perry at quarterback in short-yardage and goal-line situations and executed each time.
Abey scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard run and set up Navy’s initial touchdown by completing a 17-yard pass off a double reverse.
“Zach was absolutely phenomenal. It’s amazing to me this guy can go play wideout then come in there (at quarterback) in crunch situations and produce,” Niumatalolo said. “Everybody knows what’s going to happen. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what we’re going to do. He just finds a way to get first downs and touchdowns.”
Fullback Anthony Gargiulo was the only other ball-carrier to make much of an impact, rushing 11 times for 30 yards. The Midshipmen (1-1) wound up with only 316 total yards for the game.
“Overall, I’m not happy with the way I executed. I am happy with how the team played overall,” said Perry, who completed 2 of 3 passes for 22 yards. “I thought we never gave up. Whatever the situation, we kept lining up and executing the next play.”
Truth be told, it was the defense that led Navy to a huge early-season victory in the American Athletic Conference. Safety Sean Williams recorded a team-high nine tackles and forced two fumbles as the Mids contained a high-powered attack that had amassed 66 points and 722 yards in the season opener.
“We’re very proud of what we did in this game. It kind of showed what our character is,” Williams said. “The guys came out today and really showed a lot of emotion and passion. We played Navy football today and every time we do that we come out with the win.”
Fixing the defense was the focus of the coaching staff last week after Navy was torched to the tune of 59 points and 522 total yards in a season-opening loss at Hawaii.
“I thought our defense played unbelievable today. That is such a potent offense,” Niumatalolo said. “To play as well as we did on defense … I’m just really proud of Coach (Dale) Pehrson and the whole defensive staff as well as the players for coming back after what happened in Hawaii. I was really proud of the way the defense responded.”
Quarterback Brady White was basically held in check as he completed 15 of 25 passes for 145 yards for Memphis, the preseason pick to repeat as West Division champions in the American. Inside linebacker Taylor Heflin had a huge game with seven tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery for Navy, which also forced five punts.
Tailback Darrell Henderson broke two long touchdown runs in gaining 212 yards on the ground for Memphis (1-1), which was limited to 378 total yards by an inspired Navy defense. Henderson scored all three touchdowns for the Tigers, who could not hold a 21-9 lead.
“We knew it was a big game. We knew how good Memphis is and obviously favored to win our side of the conference,” said Niumatalolo, noting the Tigers were coming off an easy season-opening win over Mercer while the Mids had to travel back from Oahu after getting hammered by Hawaii.
“There were a lot of things that were pointed against us, but it just shows you the type of people that come to the academy – just tough, tough young men that keep fighting.”
Navy’s defense put forth an admirable performance in the first half – forcing three turnovers and two punts while limiting Memphis to one sustained drive.
However, the Navy offense failed to take advantage and missed several opportunities to build an early lead. After getting a 23-yard field goal from Bennett Moehring, which came courtesy of a Memphis fumble on the game’s first play, the Midshipmen punted on three straight possessions after picking up a total of two first downs.
Almost midway through the second quarter, as the rain poured down harder, both teams had done almost nothing on four possessions each.
Memphis finally got things going on its fifth attempt with White directing a 12-play, 86-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown trot by Henderson. Inside receiver John “Pop” Williams caught a pass along the sideline and raced 23 yards down the sideline to set up the score, which put the Tigers ahead 7-3 with 4:01 remaining in the first half.
Navy answered with a much-needed touchdown march of its own to close the half. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper dipped into his bag of tricks and pulled out a double-reverse pass play that worked like a charm. Abey took a handoff from a fellow wide receiver and lofted a pass to Perry, who was wide-open along the right sideline.
A face mask penalty on Memphis added 10 yards to the play and gave Navy first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. Perry wound up hitting paydirt from 7 yards out, scrambling up the middle on a pass play and waltzing untouched into the end zone. Holder Garret Lewis dropped the snap on the extra point attempt and the home team took a 9-7 lead into intermission.
Navy’s offensive struggles continued after halftime with Perry leading the unit to just one first down on three straight possessions to start the third quarter.
That ongoing offensive futility kept giving the ball back to Memphis, which hit a home run play on its second possession of the third period and regained the lead, 14-9. Henderson found some room on the left side, shed a couple poor tackle attempts, cut back across the entire field and raced down the right sideline to complete an impressive 78-yard touchdown run.
Navy inserted Lewis on the subsequent possession to introduce a legitimate throwing threat to the offense. Lewis completed a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Taylor Jackson on third-and-seven then broke a 12-yard run for another first down. However, the promising drive came to an abrupt end when Lewis got hit hard by linebacker JJ Russell on a keeper and fumbled.
Safety Tyrez Lindsey recovered and the Tigers had come up with yet another defensive stop. That turnover became even more costly on the very next play when Henderson broke another long touchdown run, this time going 59 yards off a delayed draw to increase the Memphis lead to 21-9 with 1:19 to go in the third quarter.
It was up to the Navy defense to once again turn the tide with Hailey causing a fumble with a hard hit on Memphis tailback Patrick Taylor, who was operating out of the Wildcat formation. Defensive end Jarvis Polu recovered the loose ball at the 27-yard line to give the Mids a short field.
This time the offense capitalized with Perry scoring off a spectacular run in which he weaved back-and-forth from one side of the field to the other. Perry had dropped back to throw, scrambled to the right, cutback to the left and made numerous defenders miss on a 19-yard scoring scamper that cut the deficit to 21-16 with 11:06 remaining in the game.
“It was a designed pass and right off the bat I had a little pressure come off the right side,” Perry explained. “I didn’t like what I was seeing as far as my wide receivers. So I just had to make a play with my feet and luckily I got into the end zone.”
The Tigers went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and suddenly the Mids had a chance to take the lead, starting at their own 44-yard line with 9:28 to go.
Perry carried the ball six times and ran extremely hard on each in leading a 13-play, 56-yard touchdown drive that did indeed put the home team ahead with time winding down.
Perry ran for 10 yards on third-and-two to keep the drive alive while Gargiulo converted another third down situation with a 3-yard plunge as the Mids marched methodically downfield while taking time off the clock. Abey took over under center on a critical fourth-and-1 play and found an opening on the right side for a 2-yard gain that moved the chains again.
Moments later, Abey lined up at quarterback again on second-and-goal from the 3 and waltzed into the end zone untouched to complete the improbable comeback. Abey was stopped on a two-point conversion attempt, leaving Navy with a 22-21 lead with 2:37 left in the contest.
Henderson took a swing pass 18 yards into Navy territory then broke off tackle for another 15 yards as Memphis made it all the way to the home team’s 34-yard line. However, a pair of incomplete passes set up a fourth-and-4 situation and backup defensive end Anthony Villalobos made the last big play by the Navy defense.
White could not find an open receiver and tried to scramble for the first down, but Villalobos disengaged from a block and tripped up the quarterback short of the marker with 1:26 to go. Perry took a knee twice to run out the remaining time and the Mids had a huge win.
“Obviously, we are extremely disappointed in the outcome. Hat’s off to Navy. They did a great job, especially late in the game,” Memphis head coach Mike Norvell said. “It was the mistakes that cost us. We turned the ball over four times. We had some other critical mistakes we have to get fixed. When you are playing a quality opponent on the road in tough conditions, you have to be able to rely on the little things. I take full ownership of it. This one is definitely on me.”