Navy 54, Rutgers 21
Navy seized the opportunity to state its case to the bowl representatives who attended yesterday's 54-21 victory over Rutgers at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Navy (8-2) scored 40 points in the first half -- more than it had scored in an entire game this season -- and finished with 613 yards of total offense, 10th-highest in school history, to leave a lasting impression with officials from the Emerald, Liberty, Houston, Motor City and Champs Sports bowls.
"We knew people from bowl games were going to be here and that motivated us," senior quarterback Aaron Polanco said. "I thought what happened against Rutgers is what happens when everyone on our team is clicking and executing. That may not have been a perfect game, but no one on our team is going to complain."
Navy's postseason picture could begin to come into focus today. Emerald Bowl Executive Director Gary Cavalli said he planned to talk to his staff last night to decide whether the San Francisco-based bowl will extend the Midshipmen an invitation as early as today.
The Emerald Bowl is the only one of the aforementioned bowls that currently has an open spot, because the Pacific-10 will not have enough bowl eligible teams to fill its slot in the Dec. 30 game.
Richard Green, a representative of the Liberty Bowl, said the Memphis-based bowl on Dec. 31 could extend an invitation to Navy on Tuesday. Green said Liberty Bowl officials will release Utah from its contractual obligation if the undefeated Utes qualify for a Bowl Championship Series game. That could open a spot for the Mids to play Louisville in a game that has a per-team payout of approximately $1.35 million, about $600,00 more than the Emerald Bowl offers.
"My position hasn't changed: We'll keep talking to all the bowls and we'll see how things unfold, and maybe by Monday, we'll have something," said Chet Gladchuk, Navy's athletic director. "I think we showed what Naval Academy football is all about. But in Naval terms, the ship's come in."
After being dominated by Rutgers last season in a 21-point loss, the Midshipmen eliminated the Scarlet Knights (4-6) from bowl contention by playing their most complete game of the season. Navy, led by senior fullback Kyle Eckel (15 carries, 143 yards, 2 touchdowns) and slotback Frank Divis (9 carries, 97 yards, 1 touchdown), a dozen Midshipmen collectively rushed for 476 yards, fifth-most in school history.
Navy's defense, which allowed 404 yards of total offense to Rutgers in its 48-27 loss last season, established itself on the Scarlet Knights' third play from scrimmage. After quarterback Ryan Hart completed an eight-yard pass to receiver Willie Foster, outside linebacker David Mahoney forced him to fumble, and senior free safety Josh Smith recovered at the Navy 48-yard line.
Navy converted its first takeaway in five games into a 7-0 lead fewer than four minutes later. The Midshipmen marched down the field on nine plays, with Eric Roberts capping the drive by taking a pitch from Polanco and rushing around the right side of the line for a five-yard touchdown run.
Rutgers responded on its next possession behind Hart, who started the game by completing 11 consecutive passes. Hart orchestrated a 13-play, 80-yard drive as he took advantage of tight end Clark Harris, who caught four passes for 57 yards during the drive, the last being a 16-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7.
After Navy regained the lead on a 20-yard run by Eckel, Mahoney stepped in front of a pass intended for Marcus Daniels and returned it 18 yards to extend Navy's lead to 21-7, marking its first interception return for a touchdown since Davede Alexander's against Notre Dame on Oct. 30, 1999.
Navy put the game away in the second quarter by scoring touchdowns on three of its four possessions.
"In that first half, we pretty much did what ever we wanted to do to start it off," Polanco said. "We couldn't have gotten off to a better start."