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'Moral Victories is Not a Thing': Navy Hangs Tough in Loss to #2 Cincinnati

by Diane Roberts

"We gave them a pretty good run," said Ken Niumatalolo, Head Football Coach at the US Naval Academy, after the Midshipmen fell 27-20 to the #2-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats in a Week 8, American Athletic Conference match-up in Annapolis, Maryland.


When a 28-point underdog comes within one score of tying the game against the #2 team in the country, that's something to be proud of.


The Midshipmen got on the board first, thanks to sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai's 2-yard run, but the Bearcats answered as Cincinnati's Heisman-contending quarterback Desmond Ridder connected with tight end Josh While to tie the game at seven.


Navy went toe-to-toe with Cincinnati for most of the game.


The triple-option can come at your face and the Mids had a game plan to keep the Bearcats off balance.


"DBs last week" Midshipmen senior cornerback Jamal Glenn said of his squad. "We got torched. As you guys saw this game, we stress just control in the passing game. Other than that, I think a 20-yard touchdown in the game, they didn't throw anything deep on us, really. So we had a game plan. We executed it for the most part. But I think it came down to situational awareness and we game on some plays."

Players from the US Naval Academy football team, and those from the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, struggle to control a loose ball on the field during the teams' American Athletic Conference game on Saturday, October 23, 2021 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
Players from the Navy Midshipmen and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats struggle to control a loose ball on the field during the teams' American Athletic Conference football game on Saturday, October 23, 2021 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The Midshipmen nearly entered the second half up on the #2 team in the country, but for a wild swing of fate: Navy was driving but lost yards on back-to-back plays, including a quarterback sack.


"Our only thing is, do not take a sack," Niumatalolo said, "but somebody got in there so quickly they didn't have a chance."


With 10 seconds left in the first half Navy regrouped, trying for a 51-yard field goal, but the Bearcats blocked Bijan Nichols's kick and recovered it with one second left. Cincinnati then kicked a 52-yard field goal to take the halftime lead 13-10.


"The blocked field goal is a killer," Niumatalolo said, "and, unfortunately, it has been a recurring theme this year. Special teams has killed us in three games ... I mean, just killed us."


"I think we may have shot ourselves in the foot a little more than we should," Lavatai lamented to media after the game.


Cincinnati came out in the second half and scored two touchdowns to take a 17-point lead, but Navy kept things exciting until the very end, Lavatai running the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown to cut Cincinnati's lead to seven.


Then, the Mids' Glenn recovered the onsides kick with 48 seconds left in the game, but Lavatai threw an interception with just 25 seconds left and the Bearcats' victory was sealed.


In addition to the late onsides kick recovery, Glenn also stopped a 2nd-quarter drive with his first interception of the year and shined for the Navy defense with a career-high 11 tackles.


"All that matters is the guys that are on the team," said Navy linebacker Nicholas Straw. "People outside of us don't believe in us, really, it seems to me. We are 1-6 right now, but we know we can beat anybody's game. We can play with anybody, hang with anybody."


"I'm proud of our team," Glenn said, "I'm very, very proud of our team, proud of our defense. But that's not good enough coming into the game. We don't want any moral victories. We stress moral victories is not a thing."


Navy fared far better than most expected, but still lost to what is normally a much more potent Cincinnati offense. The Navy defense held Cincinnati to 271 yards of total offense, the lowest for the Bearcats since 2019.


Navy will attempt to shake off the nail-biter loss as they turn their attention to Tulsa and another short-week road trip, as the Mids take on the Golden Hurricanes on Friday night. The Hurricane are 3-4 on the season and coming off of a 1-point win over USF.


Then, looking ahead to week 10, the Mids play back-to-back road games for the only time this season when they travel to Notre Dame in South Bend. Right now, they're hoping to snap their second three-game losing streak of the year.




edited for web by Joe Harman