Navy seeks to avoid letdown against I-AA Delaware

Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo, above, is cognizant of a potential letdown following the Mids' upset win.
Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo, above, is cognizant of a potential letdown following the Mids' upset win. (Darron Cummings/associated Press)
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By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ross Pospisil and Wyatt Middleton, two of the veteran leaders of Navy's defense, remember quite well the euphoria that followed the Midshipmen's victory over Notre Dame two years ago, their first over the Fighting Irish since 1963. They also remember what happened a week after that historic win: Navy gave up 635 yards of total offense to North Texas and narrowly prevailed in a 74-62 shootout.

The lesson?

"You can fall off the mountain as fast as you get up to the top," said Pospisil, a senior linebacker.

"Don't be complacent and live in that glory," said Middleton, a junior safety.

That's the challenge that the Midshipmen (7-3) face this week, as they try to move past the exhilaration of Saturday's 23-21 victory over then-No. 19 Notre Dame and prepare for Delaware (6-3), the 23rd-ranked team in division I-AA. The Midshipmen's victory in South Bend, Ind., also put them in the Texas Bowl, fulfilling one of their goals for the season.

"Obviously our kids are very happy," said Ken Niumatalolo, who became the first coach to lead an unranked Navy team to a win over a ranked Notre Dame team since Tom Hamilton did so in 1936. "A lot of us are still on cloud nine; that's human nature. . . . Hopefully we're mature enough to look at our mistakes and move forward. It's going to be hard because a lot of people are patting us on the back."

Niumatalolo also realizes that the Midshipmen should get to enjoy their victory over the Fighting Irish. For the first time in the current triple-option era, Navy rushed for more than 300 yards against Notre Dame (the Midshipmen finished with 348), and fullback Vince Murray and quarterback Ricky Dobbs each broke the 100-yard mark. Navy's defense also forced three turnovers.

"That's a great win for our program, a great win for our players and coaches. Now it's over. You put it in the books," Middleton said after practice on Monday. The victory "does need to be recognized. At the same time, you still have to be humble about it. The more humble you are, the hungrier you are."

Two years ago, when Navy broke its 43-year losing streak to Notre Dame with a 46-44 triple-overtime victory, the academy commandant canceled classes on Monday for all Midshipmen. This year, classes went on as scheduled on Monday. But the football players -- who have played 10 straight weeks of games -- did receive extended liberty on Sunday, which meant that they didn't have to return to the academy until 10 p.m. Some players used the extra time to go to Chili's; Pospisil went to his sponsor's house and watched a movie.

"That makes a huge difference on your weekend," said Pospisil, who stayed up until 5 a.m. Sunday morning reading articles about the game. "Normally we have to be back at dinnertime, by 6, and get in uniform and go to dinner and all that. Instead, we could go and just sit somewhere. . . . Just relax, as if we're at home. It was a good weekend."

But now the Midshipmen are focusing on Delaware, which could enhance its chances of a division I-AA playoff berth with a victory in Annapolis. The Blue Hens have won two of the past three meetings between the teams; most recently, they beat Navy, 59-52, behind quarterback Joe Flacco on Nov. 14, 2007 -- a week before the Midshipmen won at Notre Dame. Delaware again has a talented transfer at quarterback; this time, it's junior Pat Devlin, who appeared in 13 games in two seasons at Penn State.

If the Midshipmen need one more reminder of how quickly things can change, they can look to Oregon. All last week, Niumatalolo used the Ducks as a model for his team, which was coming off of a disappointing home loss to Temple. He pointed out how Oregon overcame the disappointment of a season-opening loss to Boise State to rebound and beat Southern California. The example is relevant this week, too, because Oregon was upset by Stanford a week after beating the Trojans.

"If we don't get out of this euphoria, [Delaware will] knock it out of us real quick," Niumatalolo said. "So we better get ready to go."

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