NAVY: Big Plays Spark Upset of 16th-Ranked Wake Forest
Navy 24, Wake Forest 17
Sunday, September 28, 2008; Page D01
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Sept. 27 -- Ken Niumatalolo never broke stride as he walked across the field following Navy's 24-17 victory over 16th-ranked Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon, not even when two of his players ran up behind him and dumped a water bucket on him. After all, what could possibly faze the first-year head coach after what he had just witnessed over the past three and a half hours?
The Midshipmen lost their starting quarterback in the second quarter, and their offense ground to a halt without him. They fumbled the ball twice -- including on the opening kickoff of the second half -- and had their 17-point lead whittled to a touchdown. But they, like their coach, never flinched.
The defense came through for the second week in a row -- this time, it was sophomore safety Emmett Merchant intercepting a pass with less than six minutes to play -- and the offense, behind fullback Eric Kettani (career-high 175 yards) and backup quarterback Jarod Bryant, awoke for one big touchdown drive.
And on a day of surprises in games involving ACC teams, Navy pulled off perhaps the biggest one. The Midshipmen (3-2) got their first victory over a ranked opponent since Sept. 28, 1985, when they upset No. 20 Virginia.
"All week, Coach has been talking about belief," sophomore safety Wyatt Middleton said. "We have to believe. On paper, everybody would choose Wake Forest to win this game. . . . They're a very good team. In order for us to win, we have to believe in ourselves."
The victory was a testament to Navy's grit and resilience, as well as its ability to make big plays -- particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Midshipmen forced six turnovers: four interceptions (by Middleton, linebacker Ross Pospisil, cornerback Ketric Buffin and Merchant) and two fumbles (forced by Ryan Griffith and Jabaree Tuani, and recovered by Bill Yarborough and Ram Vela).
"We talked about it from day one, just from the standpoint of they're a very opportunistic team," Niumatalolo said. "Our whole thing this week was we wanted to turn the tables, we wanted to shut off that faucet of them getting turnovers from us. We wanted to turn the tables and see how they responded."
The Demon Deacons (3-1) -- as well as the 33,173 fans at BB&T Field -- were taken aback at first. Pospisil's interception came on the third play of the game, and ended a string of 133 consecutive passes without an interception by Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner. Navy took possession, smoothly drove 51 yards, and scored on quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada's four-yard run to take a 7-0 lead with 9 minutes 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Midshipmen converted seven of their first nine third-down attempts as they built a 17-0 lead. But with less than five minutes remaining in the half, Kaheaku-Enhada pulled up and dropped to the ground after a four-yard gain. He aggravated the left hamstring injury that caused him to miss the first two games of the season, and did not return to the game.
The Wake Forest crowd seemed stunned as the two teams ran off the field at halftime. Its first real opportunity to cheer came when NBA all-star Tim Duncan was inducted into the school's Sports Hall of Fame at halftime. It didn't have to wait long for another chance: On the opening kickoff of the second half, Navy sophomore John Angelo fumbled after absorbing what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit by Alex Frye. Angelo was briefly knocked unconscious, and Wake Forest recovered the ball on Navy's 16. Six plays later, the Demon Deacons were on the board with a one-yard touchdown run by Josh Adams.
Navy's offense struggled to pick up yards without Kaheaku-Enhada, and wasn't helped by poor field position -- three drives started inside its 5-yard line, thanks to solid special teams play by Wake Forest. But the Midshipmen made two big plays when they needed them.
Slotback Bobby Doyle, on his only carry of the game, picked up 39 yards late in the fourth quarter when Navy was backed up in its own end. That drive ended with a Shun White fumble, and Wake Forest, trailing by seven, had a chance to tie the game. Three plays later, however, Merchant intercepted Skinner.
Kettani then broke loose for a 57-yard run, which set up Bryant's four-yard touchdown and gave Navy a 24-10 advantage with 3:45 to play. Skinner threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to fullback Mike Rinfrette with 1:14 remaining, but linebacker Corey Johnson -- a former basketball player -- recovered the onside kick and Navy ran out the clock.
"We've got to take our hats off to our kids," Niumatalolo said. "It was a phenomenal job by our kids, fighting, scratching, and clawing. . . . Our defense just stepped up. Everything that was put in front of them, they overcame it."