Running In Rain Helps Navy Sail
By Todd McElwee
A rain of biblical proportions continued to fall on Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as Midshipmen fullback Vince Murray lined up on a third-and-9 at the Wake Forest 48-yard line with approximately two minutes remaining in the game.
The junior wasn't thinking about the weather, or how far he needed for a fresh set of downs; his only concern was holding onto the ball. Securing possession, Murray found a seam and plowed 42 yards for a game-clinching first down as Navy outlasted the Demon Deacons, 13-10, for a fifth straight victory last weekend.
"I knew I needed nine yards, but like I said, I was really just trying to hold onto the ball," Murray said.
"I'm speechless with our kids," said coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose team only needs one more win to secure its spot in the Texas Bowl. "That was a good football team that we played. Obviously the elements weren't the greatest. … But our kids went out there and battled and battled."
Without the service of starting quarterback Ricky Dobbs, the Midshipmen did not attempt a pass. The team's offensive centerpiece was sidelined due to a left knee injury, so Navy turned to Murray to carry the load. He didn't disappoint, rushing for a career-high 175 yards on 27 carries.
Murray did the bulk of his damage in the second half. He rushed for 121 yards on 19 carries after the break, helping Navy, which led 6-3 at the half, retain the ball for more than 19 minutes.
Making his first collegiate start, sophomore quarterback Kriss Proctor (89 yards, 23 carries) accounted for the Midshipmen's lone touchdown on a 40-yard dash less than a minute into the third quarter. Managing the game carefully, he made only one mistake, fumbling at the Demon Deacon's 3.
Puddles began to form near the south end zone as the Academy's band finished up its halftime performance. Both sides, particularly the respective offenses, were forced to battle the elements as much as each other as the game turned into a war of field position.
"We've got some tough kids," Niumatalolo said. "Our kids just know that, week in and week out, we've got to go and there's no excuses. Nobody really cares if they're tired, if they had back-to-back games or had an exam. Once you line up, nobody cares."
Navy's defense and special teams continued to flourish during crunch time. After allowing a Wake touchdown with 7:41 to go, the Midshipmen regrouped and blanked the Demon Deacons the rest of the way.
Following a 68-yard moon shot by junior punter Kyle Delahookie at 3:45 in the fourth, the Midshipmen defense held, forcing a Wake punt from its own 24 with 2:38 remaining. Murray's dash came on the ensuing drive.
Saturday was arguably the defense's strongest showing to date. Led by eight tackles apiece from senior linebacker Ross Pospisil and Tony Haberer, the Midshipmen allowed a season low 10 points and held Wake to a meager 5-of-13 on third downs.
On his first punt, Delahookie unleashed a personal-best 65-yard blast, pinning Wake on its own 3. The junior was arguably Navy's most potent weapon, posting an impressive 48.5 average on four attempts. He also saved the best for last, bettering his benchmark first kick with the 68-yarder.
Kicker Joe Buckley continued to develop, connecting on a career-long 50-yard field goal in the opening quarter, and then adding a 40-yarder with roughly eight minutes remaining before the half.
"Each day I become more comfortable," Buckley said.
Winners of five straight for the first time since the start of 2004, Navy will look to secure its bowl eligibility Saturday against Temple (5-2, 4-0), which currently sits atop the Mid-American Conference East Division. Historically, Navy is 18-13 against the MAC.
Like Navy, the Owls have also claimed five straight, including a 27-14 victory over Army. They'll be looking to avenge last season's 33-27 overtime heartbreaker to Navy in Annapolis.
Freshman running back Bernard Pierce is 14th in the nation in rushing, averaging 109.4 yards per game, and has scored nine touchdowns.
Posted October 27, 2009