|Navy Gets Little Time To Relish Huge Upset|
By Kevin Heitz
Five games into his first season, it is clear that Navy football is in good hands as Niumatalolo has already accomplished something his predecessor never did -- defeat a ranked opponent.
Last season, Wake Forest waltzed into Annapolis and racked up more than 400 yards of offense as quarterback Riley Skinner completed 22 of 28 passes for 213 yards en route to a 44-24 victory. Everyone expected more of the same this year. Everyone, except for Niumatalolo and his plucky Midshipmen.
Behind a career-high 175 rushing yards from fullback Eric Kettani and a second straight strong defensive performance, the Midshipmen (3-2) defied all odds makers and left Winston-Salem, N.C., with a 24-17 upset of the 16th-ranked Demon Deacons. It was Navy's first win over a ranked opponent since 1985, when the Midshipmen upended No. 20 Virginia, 17-13.
"I've got to take my hat off to our kids," Niumatalolo said. "It was a phenomenal job of our kids fighting, scratching and clawing. … It was an unbelievable win for our program."
Despite losing starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who aggravated a left hamstring injury in the second quarter after rushing for two early touchdowns, Navy's offense ran like a finely-tuned automobile. The nation's top-ranked running attack outrushed Wake Forest, 292-43, and threw a total of four passes all game.
Midshipmen defenders stepped up big for the second straight week. Navy forced a Wake Forest team that led the nation with a plus-10 turnover ratio coming into the game into committing six turnovers. Skinner, started the game having not thrown an interception in 131 consecutive pass attempts, was picked off four times and sacked three times.
"Our defense played phenomenal," Niumatalolo said. "Every situation that we put them in, our defense just stepped up. Everything that was put in front of them, they overcame it and I couldn't be more proud of Coach (Buddy) Green, the defensive staff and all of our defensive players. I thought they did a great job.
"Our defense played with the short field the whole second half and they did an unbelievable job of stopping them. Unbelievable."
Skinner's fourth interception set up backup quarterback Jarrod Bryant's 4-yard touchdown run, which gave the Mids a 14-point lead with less than four minutes remaining.
"We're just happy to win," Niumatalolo said. "We know they're a great team and I know Coach (Jim) Grobe is a great coach and they have a great program. I would love to emulate what Coach Grobe has done with this program. I think he's won, he's won with class, and he's won with good kids. I'd love to try to follow him in what he does. I think he does a great job so I couldn't be happier for our kids."
There's no time to celebrate on The Yard with a trip to Colorado to face rival Air Force looming this weekend.
The Falcons (3-1, 1-1 Mountain West) had last week off after falling to Utah, 30-23, Sept. 20, snapping their seven-game home winning streak. Air Force gained a paltry 191 total yards on offense, its lowest total of the season and the lowest under second-year coach Troy Calhoun.
The Falcons are hoping to put an end to their losing skid against the Midshipmen and bring the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy back to the Air Force Academy. The trophy goes annually to the academy with the best record in round-robin competition, and it took up residence in Colorado Springs 17 times between 1982 and 2002. This year's seniors have never held the trophy as Navy has defeated Army and Air Force 10 straight times.
"I've never seen the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in person," Air Force senior free safety Aaron Kirchoff told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "I hate saying it. I hate it. … I want to hold it up in the sky with my teammates. That's what I want to do. It lights a fire under my butt, I tell you what."