• Diane Roberts

Midshipmen Host #2 Bearcats

by Diane Roberts

Navy limps into its big game against second-ranked (by the AP) Cincinnati, after losing to the Memphis Tigers 35-17 in a Thursday night primetime game in week seven.

The Mids need to right the ship -- and quickly -- if they want to have any hope of beating the 6-0 Bearcats.

First, the good news from the Memphis game: Navy chewed up a chunk of time in the first quarter, with a 21-play, 75-yard, nearly 12-minute scoring drive to tie the game at seven.

"The first drive is what we wanted," Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the game. "Grind the clock, keep them off the field. The quick pass kind of turned things around, but even with this it was, 'Okay, keep fighting.'"

And, now the bad news: After Navy scored, on the very next play from scrimmage, Memphis answered with a 69-yard run from Calvin Austin, III at the end of the first quarter ... one of several big plays that burned Navy's defense.

US Naval Academy sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai gets pressured by Memphis Tigers defender John Tate, IV during the American Athletic Conference football game on Oct 16, 2021 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, TN
US Naval Academy sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai carries the ball during the American Athletic Conference football game on October 16, 2021 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, TN. Photo courtesy Navy Sports, by Joe Rondone of The Commercial Appeal, USA Today Network

Memphis scored on five of its first six offensive drives. Another big play, a 74-yard touchdown bomb from freshman quarterback Seth Henigan to wide receiver Eddie Lewis, helped give the Tigers a 28-10 halftime lead, despite Navy leading time of possession by 2-1.

"But just getting behind, [we] probably did some things we probably wouldn't have done if the score was closer, but we had to score," Niumatalolo said afterwards. "We were behind, had to pick up the pace a little bit, and it got out of character for who we are."

Ill-timed penalties did Navy in, costing them two apparent touchdowns, including a pick-6 by Diego Fagot which would have tied the game.

Navy tacked on another touchdown in the third quarter, on a Tai Lavatai-to-Mychal Cooper connection, but they could never catch up.

"Obviously no one likes losing," said Navy running back Carlinos Acie, "but we're all fighters. We're going to keep coming out every single game, playing 100% and giving it all we've got."

On Monday following the loss to Memphis, Niumatalolo told media that there was plenty to learn from the game:

"We learned and we know we have to be on point every week," he said. "Our margin of error is minimal, and we recognize our league has always been good, but it's really good this year."

Navy is now 1-3 in American Athletic Conference play and 1-4 on the season.

The Cincinnati Bearcats bring with them quarterback Desmond Ridder, considered one of the most dynamic QBs in the nation, who is working his way into Heisman conversations. Cincinnati has a 15-1 record since the start of 2020, with the Bearcats' only loss over the past 22 months in the 2020 Peach Bowl -- to Georgia, the current #1 team in the nation.

edited for web by Joe Harman