Perry will start at quarterback for Navy in the Military Bowl
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: December 20, 2017
Navy’s football team returned to practice for the first time since losing to Army on December 9 and there is no longer any questions about the starting quarterback.
Malcolm Perry took all the practice repetitions with the starting offense on Tuesday and head coach Ken Niumatalolo confirmed he will start against Virginia in the Military Bowl, being held December 28 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“Malcolm is going to be our quarterback,” said Niumatalolo, who had already indicated he was leaning in that direction after watching Perry run for 250 yards and a touchdown during the Army-Navy game.
Perry flashed his speed and elusiveness by scoring his team’s lone touchdown on a 68-yard run in the second quarter. The sophomore sensation almost broke another long scoring scamper, but was tripped up after gaining 46 yards on another option keeper.
That diving stop at the 11-yard line by Army defensive end John Voit, who caught the back of Perry’s cleats with his outstretched fingertips, ultimately proved crucial. The Midshipmen wound up settling for a field goal for the second time in the game and those two failures to finish in the red zone proved costly in a 14-13 loss to the Black Knights.
Navy employed a zone option scheme against Army with Perry lining up in shotgun formation and basically running a Wildcat type offense. Niumatalolo said the Midshipmen intend to operate their typical triple-option offense in the Military Bowl.
“We want to run our whole offense with Malcolm, and weather permitting we will,” he said.
Junior Zach Abey becomes the backup quarterback for now, bringing a disappointing end to a season in which he rushed for 1,325 yards and 14 touchdowns. Abey basically lost the starting spot after posting the sixth-highest, single-season rushing total in program history.
Niumatalolo said it was too early to say whether the 6-foot-2, 212-pound product of Archbishop Spalding would remain at quarterback next season. The Pasadena resident, who surpassed 200 yards rushing in two games this season, could potentially switch to fullback or even linebacker.
“We’re still thinking through that. Zach is a good football player and we definitely want to use his talents,” Niumatalolo said. “Those are discussions we’re still having.”
Navy has not practiced since the Army loss as Niumatalolo gave the players a full week off to focus on exams and sent the assistant coaches out recruiting. Niumatalolo also went on the road to meet prospects for home visits as the coaching staff sought to nail down some commitments leading up to the new early National Signing Date, which begins on Wednesday.
NCAA rules allow schools that participate in a bowl game to hold an additional 15 practices, but Navy will wind up getting in just seven prior to next Thursday’s matchup with Virginia. Niumatalolo has found that trying to conduct a productive practice during final exams is pointless.
“I don’t even know what the max is because we never even get close to it,” Niumatalolo said of the NCAA mandate for postseason practice. “In years past, we’ve tried to practice in between finals or gone in the morning and there’s eight guys missing and other guys are falling asleep during stretching. I just said ‘screw it’ because it’s not worth it. I found it is best to just wait until finals are over.”
Exams wrapped up at the academy on Tuesday so the Midshipmen resumed football practice with the goal of getting the bad taste out of their mouths. Army beat Navy for the second straight season and captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 1996.
Navy (6-6) has now lost six of its last seven games and must beat Virginia in order to avoid just its second losing since 2003. The Midshipmen finished 5-7 in 2011, the only other time during Niumatalolo’s 10-year tenure they did not win at least eight games.
“We’re still hurting. That was a tough loss,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re still licking our wounds from that last one and the best way to get over it is to get out and get a win in a bowl.”
Navy players were encouraged to participate in a weighlifting session at least twice last week if their exam schedule permitted while injured players were asked to show up for regular treatment, but all other football activities were cancelled last week.
“Obviously, we would have liked to have gotten more in, but it is what it is,” Niumatalolo said. “Today was our first meeting on Virginia and our first practice.”
Most Power Five conference programs view the bowl game preparation as almost another spring camp and utilize all 15 allowable practices in order to develop younger players. Niumatalolo sent all the sophomores and freshmen on the scout team home for the holidays.
“The young kids here at this place are a little different than those at (civilian) schools. They’ve been in solitary confinement. So we let them go home,” he said.
Athletic director Chet Gladchuk said Navy is close to selling its entire allottment of 8,000 tickets for the Military Bowl. Virginia already announced that its 8,000 tickets have been distributed so there is a good chance the game will be a sellout.
Niumatalolo admitted the Midshipmen, especially the seniors, were somewhat disappointed about not going away for the postseason. Navy has played bowl games in San Diego, San Francisco, Houston, Fort Worth and Charlotte over the years.
“I think the players would always like to go somewhere. That being said, I know they’re grateful to be in a bowl game and playing in their own stadium. Beggars can’t be choosers. We’re just happy to be playing another game,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s another opportunity to play at our stadium so we’ll try to finish on a positive note, send our seniors out the right way and secure a winning season.”
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