Navy football undone by sloppy mistakes against Maryland

Maryland defeated Navy, 17-14, in the season opener for both teams.
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2010; 9:36 PM

BALTIMORE - The Navy football team committed one mistake after another, and yet here it was, late in the fourth quarter, one yard from beating Maryland despite prolonged ineptitude near the goal line and the most fundamentally unsound performance of quarterback Ricky Dobbs's career.

Dobbs had the ball in his hands on fourth and goal and, based on his record-setting season a year ago, Navy wouldn't have had it any other way. Then the unthinkable repeated itself for a fifth time, and this last malfunction was the most deflating of them all in a 17-14 loss before 69,348 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Dobbs tried to score around the left side, but Kenny Tate was there to meet him, and Navy began the season with what Coach Ken Niumatalolo called one of the most agonizing losses of his career. Niumatalolo took responsibility for electing to go for it on fourth down rather than kick a short field goal to tie, and afterward, Navy players backed the decision.

"It's just something that we do all the time," said Dobbs, who finished with 63 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. "With one yard to go, that's automatic. It's like bread and butter for us, and I felt 100 percent confident we were going to punch it in."

Navy failed on 5 of 7 chances inside the Maryland 20, including fumbles by Dobbs at the 6 in the second quarter and from the 1 in the third. In all of last season, the Midshipmen did not score inside the red zone 10 times.

Navy lost despite outgaining Maryland 485 yards to 272, including a 412-261 edge in rushing. The Midshipmen also almost doubled the Terrapins in time of possession, 39 minutes 26 seconds to 20:34.

"There's no consolation in moving the ball," Niumatalolo said. "The object of the game is to score, and they did a good job keeping us out. We just had some mental lapses, but I got outcoached. . . . Probably a bad call on my part to go for it in the end. The biggest fault is my fault."

In the first half, Navy hardly resembled the team that went 10-4 last season in large part because of discipline and prudent decision-making. The Midshipmen's first miscue came on their first possession of the game, when place kicker Joe Buckley's 32-yard field goal attempt clanked off the left upright.

Navy then made another unforced error on Maryland's ensuing possession, and it came from a senior co-captain, no less. Safety Wyatt Middleton was the guilty party, drawing a pass interference call at the Midshipmen 4-yard line while covering wide receiver Torrey Smith. The infraction came on third and six from the 9, and it gave Maryland first and goal. Two plays later the Terrapins went ahead, 14-0.

Navy got it to 14-7 when senior slotback Andre Byrd scored on a 10-yard run at 14:25 of the second quarter, then tied it when Dobbs scored from one yard out with 1:52 to in the third. Maryland got the winning points midway through the final quarter on Travis Baltz's 24-yard field goal, but before then, Navy squandered enough chances to last practically an entire season.

Dobbs's first fumble came on his final carry of a 17-play drive in the second quarter that began at the Navy 31. As Dobbs pulled away from center and tried to control the snap, linebacker Adrian Moten leapt in from the left side and the collision jarred the ball loose. Maryland recovered at the 1, but Navy held and got the ball back.

The Midshipmen got to the 7 with 12 seconds to play, but on third and six with no timeouts, Dobbs tried to run for the end zone and fumbled as he was being tackled. Navy recovered, but time expired before Navy could try a field goal.

On its first possession of the second half, Navy moved from its 40 to the Maryland 4, where it faced first and goal. But Dobbs lost the ball again, as this time Tate swooped in for the hit. Maryland's Ryan Donohue recovered at the 1, and Navy again wasted a scoring chance that had become second nature last season, when Dobbs ran for 27 touchdowns, the most by a quarterback in NCAA history.

"We put the ball in the red zone, and we just had trouble finishing," Dobbs said. "Don't know the reasons for that. As far as the expectations we have, it's nothing different. Still the same expectations. . . . When you get a detrimental blow like this, it's a test of character to see if you can stand up and come back, and I can guarantee you that this Navy football team is going to have that character to be able to bounce back."

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