• Diane Roberts

Navy Comes From Behind To Claim First Win of 2021

by Diane Roberts

The Navy football team did something on Saturday, October 2 that they haven't done in almost a year . . . they won!

Navy's offensive woes are well-documented, having trouble scoring in the red zone and losing eight straight games dating back to last year, but with the 34-30 win over the University of Central Florida, they got the victory monkey off of their backs.

The Midshipmen were 16-point underdogs to the UCF Knights going into the game, and they found themselves down by as much as 13 points in the third quarter, but they rallied for 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the game.

Navy's QB Tai Lavatai flips the ball to RB Carlinos Acie (25) during the football game between the US Naval Academy and Univ. of Central Florida on October 2, 2021 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium

For the first Navy win on almost a year, they deserved some time to relish it.

"We needed that," Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo said afterwards. "We just needed that so bad."

Healed-up sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai got his second start of the season, and first points on the board with a first quarter rushing touchdown. He also ran in a second touchdown in the fourth quarter.

During the 0-3 start Niumatalolo said they needed someone to earn the job under center in order for the offense to get some consistency. "It was a big win, but Tai, to me, he earned that job today," the Head Coach said.

For the first time in a long time the much-maligned Navy offense was clicking, racking up 406 total yards, with 348 on the ground and going five-for-five in the red zone.

"[Quarterbacks] Coach [Ivin] Jasper made a great point of we had to score over 30 points, we had to get over 300 yards rushing if we wanted to win ... and we did both of those things. It was just great to see it all happen," Lavatai said in the post-game press conference.

After being a liability in the first three games, the special teams unit went to the top of what Niumatalolo called his "crisis list," and the extra emphasis paid off. Navy blocked an extra point in the first quarter and then defensive back Michael McMorris blocked a punt in the second. Daniel Taylor did the rest, recovering the ball in the end zone for a Navy touchdown.

"And watching film, they lined up and it's exactly what I saw on film," McMorris told reporters with a chuckle after the game. "I was like, 'Wow, I'm to go do this,' and then I did."

"If we didn't get that blocked punt," Niumatalolo speculated, "we probably don't win."

Despite the outcome, the game was not without miscues for the Midshipmen. The Mids got flagged for eight penalties, costing them 72 yards, including a late hit by co-captain Diego Fagot that led to three points for the Knights just before halftime.

Navy entered the game with the fewest penalties and penalty yards assessed in college football.

"I was proud of Chance, and Diego, too," Niumatalolo said. "They made some big mistakes, but they came back with some huge plays. So, just, credit to their characters."

Fagot caused a UCF fumble that gave Navy the ball and the Midshipmen completed the comeback with an Isaac Ruoss touchdown with 3:09 left in the game. But the victory wasn't final until a Taylor Robinson interception in the end zone with just 24 seconds remaining to seal the deal for Navy.

The win over UCF is the first for Navy in three tries, and they were last team in the American Athletic Conference that Navy had not beaten.

Next up for Navy is Southern Methodist -- another conference game in this tough 2021 schedule -- on Saturday, October 9th. The Midshipmen hope to keep to momentum going.

edited for web by Joe Harman