Navy Falls to Marshall in Opener, Air Force Lands in Annapolis for Game 2
by Diane Roberts
Leading up to Game 1 versus Marshall, Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo said he felt different, that this season was different and that he felt good about the team. They were physical and they were able to practice in person -- very different from 2020 when they had the shadow of COVID hanging over them.
Unfortunately, the 2021 season began the same way 2020 did, with a lopsided loss for the Midshipmen.
It only took about two and a half minutes for the Thundering Herd of Marshall to ram its way to a score. Marshall needed just 9 plays for 75 yards to get through the Midshipmen's defense and into the endzone.
"No excuses," Coach Niumatalolo told reporters at the postgame press conference, "We were prepared. It didn't look like we were prepared. We had penalties to start drives, delay of game, kicks blocked, just inexplicable things. That's the worst we've done on special teams in a long time."
Navy's offense was effective, if not efficient, racking up nearly 400 yards of total offense, but stalling when it counted. They were just 1 for 5 in red zone opportunities.
"Not scoring in the red zone just killed us," Niumatalolo said.
"You gotta make plays," said the Navy senior and co-captain Cooper after the game, "and we didn't make plays. If you don't [make plays], obviously, this is the result."
Other gifts the Mids couldn't capitalize on included three Marshall turnovers that led to zero Navy points.
LB Diego Fagot was uncharacteristically short on words about the game's outcome. "We didn't play well," the senior co-captain said.
Time of possession favored Navy 41 minutes to 19 minutes, but the Mids gave up 464 yards of offense to Marshall. The Thundering Herd offense went 6 for 6 in the red zone, while their defense tallied nine sacks.
"Yeah, you guys saw it, down 21 - zip pretty quick," said Navy S Kevin Brennan, "We had some bright spots here and there, but overall not a good day for the defense."
Brennan, a senior and co-captain for the Midshipmen, was one of those bright spots. He collected an interception and a fumble recovery in the game.
But football is a team game, and the team lost -- badly.
Navy Hosts Air Force In Week 2
There is not much time for the Navy players to hang their heads, with an all-important Commander In Chief's Trophy game coming up in game two.
"That's all we talked about in the locker room," Coach Niumatalolo said, "We gotta get ready for Air Force. It's the biggest game of the year, obviously, next to the last one at the end of the year," referring to the Army-Navy game coming up on December 11.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," NIumatalolo continued in postgame comments. "We've got to get healthy. We've got to lick our wounds and come back and get ready to go."
"We have another good team coming to our house," Mychal Cooper added.
As for Air Force, Head Coach Troy Calhoun knows that even though Navy lost, the Falcons have their work cut out for them.
"You can tell offensively, even the other day, just the way they moved the football at will this past Saturday," Calhoun told reporters at a press conference from the Air Force Academy facilities on Tuesday, September 7th, "If you look in between the 20s, they marched and made a lot of first downs. They had no problem moving the ball."
Calhoun also added that Navy has three highly-touted QBs who all bring something different to the game. But which of those three will be under center for game two?
Tai Lavatai got the nod to start in the first game, but a leg injury turned the reins over to Xavier Arline, who got his first TD in the game against Marshall -- a rushing TD that accounted for Navy's only score of the game.
As of press time, Lavatai's status for the Air Force game is uncertain so there is no word on who will start at QB for Navy in week two.