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Navy vs. Rutgers: Missed opportunities cost Navy in 21-20 loss to Rutgers

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — One blown opportunity after the next finally doomed the Navy football team on Saturday, and as a result, the reeling Midshipmen are faced with yet another week of introspection and corrective measures following a 21-20 loss to Rutgers before 47,138 at High Point Solutions Stadium.

The final blow came when place kicker Jon Teague had his 34-yard field goal attempt blocked with 4 minutes 43 seconds to play, sending Navy to its fourth consecutive loss and second in three games by a point. It was the third week in a row Teague had a kick blocked, but lapses in the red zone also contributed mightily to the Midshipmen extending their longest slide since 2002.

“There’s so many different things that happened in this game that we can look back to that if we did this or did that we could have won the game,” senior quarterback Kriss Proctor said. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror and point that finger at ourselves and see what we can do.”

Navy had built a 10-point advantage following Teague’s 31-yard field goal with 10:28 to play in the third quarter, but from there, Rutgers scored consecutive touchdowns, including quarterback Gary Nova’s go-ahead 20-yard strike to wide receiver Tim Wright. Nova’s pass sailed just over the raised arms of linebacker Matt Warrick and settled into Wright’s gut in the back of the end zone with just over two minutes elapsed in the fourth quarter to make it 21-17.

Navy got the ball at its 20 with 12:57 to play and drove to the Rutgers 12, where the Midshipmen had third and seven. Proctor was sacked for an 11-yard loss on the play, and Coach Ken Niumatalolo elected to call on Teague for 41-yard field goal try into a brisk wind that swirled around the stadium all afternoon.

Teague struck the ball solid, and it cut through the stiff breeze between the uprights to draw the Midshipmen to one point with 7:52 left. Navy got the ball right back when linebacker Caleb King stepped in front of Nova’s pass and returned it six yards to the Rutgers 23.

The Midshipmen (2-4) ran three times to the 17 before Teague stepped onto the field for the decisive kick, but the attempt never had a chance when Brandon Jones raced in untouched and got his hands on the ball. Navy blocked a field goal try in the closing seconds and got the ball at its 23, but the game ended when Proctor was sacked for a nine-yard loss on second down.

“These losses are heart-wrenching,” said Niumatalolo, who lost for the second time in 26 games as Navy coach when leading in the third quarter. “These guys are heartbroken in the locker room right now. They left everything on the field.”

Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, included in that were red zone scoring chances that could have altered the impact of Teague’s last field goal try or whether it would have been necessary at all. The first came in the second quarter when Proctor lost two yards on fourth and goal from the 1. Then on Navy’s first possession of the second half, slotback Mike Stukel couldn’t control a pass in the end zone on second and five from the 12.

Stukel pounded his fist in frustration after pulling himself up from the turf, and two plays later, Navy settled for Teague’s 31-yarder for a 17-7 buffer.

“Instead of getting three, we had a chance for seven there,” Niumatalolo said. “At the end of the game, those are huge plays. The game is that tight and that close, a lot of things are magnified, and that was a close play. We couldn’t score.”

In his return from a one-game suspension for violating team rules, fullback Alexander Teich led Navy with 69 yards rushing, and Proctor was next with 39. The Midshipmen compiled just 162 rushing yards, by far the lowest output this year for the country’s top-ranked rushing offense that had been averaging 366 yards per game.

Navy’s defense, though, produced a much-improved showing after allowing 13 touchdowns and 943 yards over the last two games. The Midshipmen held Rutgers (5-1) to 11 points below its scoring average, although they continued their struggles on third down. Navy entered the game ranked 119 out of 120 FBS teams in third-down defense, and against Rutgers, it allowed conversions on 7 of 14 chances.

That in part contributed to Navy losing for the fifth straight time at Rutgers and for its 0-3 record this season in games decided by a touchdown or fewer. Navy entered 26-13 in games decided by such margins.

“We’ve been part of a lot of winning seasons, and we’re not about to let that ship turn upside down,” Teich said. “We’ve got to keep fight, keep grinding every week and every day. Eventually these victories are going to start coming.”

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