A disappointing season took a significant turn for the worse Saturday as Navy football lost to a struggling Temple team it was favored to beat.

A disappointing season took a significant turn for the worse Saturday as Navy football lost to a struggling Temple team it was favored to beat. (iStock)

PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — A disappointing season took a significant turn for the worse Saturday as Navy football lost to a struggling Temple team it was favored to beat.

Oddsmakers installed the Midshipmen as a touchdown favorite and one had to wonder why after watching them get thoroughly outplayed by the host Owls.

Quarterback E.J. Warner completed 27 of 33 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns to lead Temple to a 32-18 victory over Navy before an announced 13,049 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Navy had a bye after a deflating loss to service academy rival Air Force and the coaching staff felt it was a good time to reset the season. The Mids were entering a stretch of three games against opponents with a combined record of 5-19. First-year coach Brian Newberry was not happy about how the troops responded.

“We talked about this being a new season and a fresh start, so to start off this way is disappointing to say the least. It takes the wind out of your sails,” Newberry said. “I thought we had two good weeks of preparation. I felt our kids were ready to play. I thought we came out extremely flat in the first half and played very uninspired football and sloppy football.”

Warner returned to the lineup after missing two straight games with a concussion and looked a lot like his Pro Football Hall of Fame father in picking apart the Navy pass defense. Wide receiver Zae Baines had a big day for the Owls with seven receptions for 132 yards.

Tight end Jordan Smith had two touchdown catches for Temple, which piled up 445 total yards against a Navy defense that had played extremely well in the three previous games. Wide receiver Dante Smith caught a touchdown and 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on the win as the Owls improved to 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the American Athletic Conference.

“Temple had a bye week as well and put together a good plan on both sides of the football. They outcoached us and outplayed us today. That’s the bottom line,” Newberry said. “We didn’t play well on either side of the football today and it’s on me. I’ve got to prepare them better. I didn’t feel we were ready to play and I’m not sure why.”

Senior Xavier Arline was a surprise starter at quarterback for Navy (3-5, 2-3) and was unable to lift an offense that has struggled mightily in three straight games. Arline rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown and passed for 124 yards and another score. However, he was pretty much the extent of the offense as the Midshipmen were limited to two touchdowns and a field goal.

Four other ballcarriers combined for 47 yards on 18 carries as Navy’s option offense continued to sputter. The Midshipmen managed only 144 rushing yards as the offensive line got very little movement and opened very few holes.

“It was the same story offensively. We couldn’t get anything going, couldn’t sustain any drives,” Newberry said. “In order to move the ball and sustain drives, you have to make blocks. I didn’t think we were very good at that today, either inside or on the perimeter. That’s been the problem the last three outings.”

Linebacker Jordan Magee made 11 tackles to lead a Temple defense that repeatedly broke into the backfield to blow up running plays. Fullbacks Alex Tecza and Daba Fofana were held to 24 yards on 10 carries as the Owls clogged the middle.

Offensive coordinator Grant Chesnut used slotback Brandon Chatman on quick pitches and jet sweeps in hopes of getting something going on the perimeter, but Temple had defenders running hard to the outside to take that away.

Inside linebacker Colin Ramos recorded 12 tackles to lead the Navy defense, which seemed to suffer a letdown after earning plaudits for its performance in wins against North Texas and Charlotte as well as the loss to Air Force.

“We played three pretty good games of defense and it’s like we think we’ve arrived or something,” said Newberry, who was surprised to see the unit take a step backward. “It’s not what I expected. For whatever reason, I don’t think we had the same kind of energy today that we’ve had.”

With Warner back at the controls of the offense, Temple came out throwing and found plenty of openings in a porous Navy pass defense. Warner completed all six passes in directing an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the game. He tossed a scoring strike to tight end Jordan Smith, who was wide-open in the left corner of the end zone, to give the Owls a 7-0 lead just over 3 1/2 minutes into the game.

Warner continued to find receivers running open against zone coverage on Temple’s second possession, which stalled deep in Navy territory. Kicker Camden Price came on and booted a 42-yard field goal to give the Owls a 10-0 lead with 3:18 left in the first quarter.

“Warner is a really good player. We knew we would have to be really good [at defending] the short to intermediate stuff in the passing game and we weren’t today. He diced us up pretty good,” Newberry said.

Navy picked up one first down on its opening possession then went three-and-out on its second and third. That inability to move the ball at all meant the Mids fell further and further behind in the field position battle.

A 31-yard punt by Riley Riethman didn’t help and Temple started its third possession in Navy territory. It only took the Owls four plays to score thanks to a blatant pass interference penalty by cornerback Dashaun Peele, who tackled the intended receiver in the end zone.

That gave Temple a first down at the Navy 24-yard line and Warner immediately threw a dart down the seam to tight end David Martin-Robinson for a touchdown that made it 17-0 with 14 seconds elapsed in the second quarter.

“The first half was an embarrassment — just sloppy all around on both sides of the football,” Newberry said. A crazy sequence of events lead to Navy’s initial touchdown.

On the first play of Temple’s opening possession of the second half, wide receiver Amad Anderson caught a pass over the middle, made two defenders miss and raced 72 yards along the right sideline. Anderson cut back toward the middle of the field and seemed headed for the end zone, but Navy cornerback Mbiti Williams punched the ball loose.

Outside linebacker Luke Pirris, who had hustled downfield, recovered the loose ball with the turnover resulting in a huge turn of events. Navy promptly went three-and-out for the fifth time in the game and Riethman came on to punt for the seventh time.

Dante Wright had handled punt return duties up until that point, but Anderson did so on this occasion and that change proved costly. Anderson muffed the punt and Navy gunner Jayden Umbarger recovered to give Navy possession in Temple territory for the first time all game.

After failing to move the ball up until that point, the Navy offense managed to make enough plays to capitalize on the turnover. Arline got things going by scrambling for 10 yards and the Mids picked up another first down thanks to a favorable spot. It appeared Arline had been stopped short on fourth and a long 1, but the officials marked the ball beyond the line to gain, keeping the drive alive.

Moments later, facing third-and-10, Arline sidestepped a pass rusher then stepped up into the pocket and delivered a 24-yard touchdown pass to slotback Eli Heidenreich, who had gotten behind the defense.

Arline completed a 2-point conversion pass to Umbarger and that reduced the deficit to 17-8.

Peele picked off a Warner pass on the ensuing possession and that second turnover put the Navy offense right back in business in Temple territory. The Mids converted on fourth down again and Arline scrambled for 16 yards to set up first-and-goal from the 5.

Arline covered that distance with two quarterback keepers and suddenly Navy was within 17-15 at the 14:56 mark of the fourth quarter. Because of the 2-point conversion, the Mids had a chance to take the lead with a field goal provided the defense got another stop.

It didn’t happen. Warner calmly led a 12-play, 81-yard touchdown march that increased the lead to 24-15 with 9:09 remaining in the game. Warner completed four passes for 50 yards on the drive, which was aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Navy outside linebacker Xavier McDonald.

That 15-yard penalty, which came after Temple had converted on fourth down, gave the home team a first down on the Navy 15. Two plays later, Warner found Smith open in the right corner of the end zone on a fade route for a 13-yard touchdown pass.

“That was a critical drive in the game. You feel like you have a lot of momentum. You have to find a way to get a stop there and we just didn’t do it. We couldn’t get off the field,” Newberry said.

Arline completed a 31-yard pass to slotback Brandon Chatman to set up a 45-yard field goal by Kirkwood that gave Navy some hope. Kirkwood’s career-long kick made it 24-18 with 5:46 to go in the game.

Once again, the Navy defense could not come up with a big stop. Baines caught a tunnel screen and raced 60 yards to the Navy 22, and that play effectively ended any hopes of a miraculous comeback. Warner then threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dante Wright to clinch Temple’s first victory since Sept. 16.

“It’s not good enough. Our fans and supporters deserve better than that. It’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job and get this thing fixed,” Newberry said. “We have to find a way to keep our players together and engaged.

We’ve got great young men in our program who are extremely resilient and I expect them to stay the course.”

(c)2023 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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