Rutgers 31, Navy 21
Navy's football team slowly walked off the field as Rutgers's players celebrated with hundreds of students near midfield following its 31-21 victory Saturday. Many of Navy's players fought back tears as they reflected on an afternoon in which they missed a major opportunity to prove themselves against a quality opponent, while the Scarlet Knights basked in what has become a benchmark season.
A year ago, Navy dominated Rutgers in a 54-21 win. However, Rutgers had little to play for then, and Navy was in the process of posting its first 10-win season in 99 years. But on this chilly autumn afternoon, Rutgers was playing in front of a capacity crowd of 41,176 and trying to become eligible to play in its first bowl game since 1978.
The Scarlet Knights (6-2) did just that and also guaranteed their first winning season since 1992, when they went 7-4 but did not get an invitation to a bowl game.
Navy (4-3) failed to prove it could beat a team that had a winning record. The Midshipmen had a chance to move to within one victory of earning the six wins needed to be eligible for a bowl game, but now they'll have to wait until Saturday's game against Tulane (2-4) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
In the first half, Navy fell behind and never recovered. The Midshipmen committed two turnovers and had a poor punt that gave Rutgers good field position. The Scarlet Knights' first three touchdowns came on drives of 30, 32 and 30 yards, and the halftime score was 21-7.
"Turnovers and mistakes really cost us this game," freshman slotback Karlos Whittaker said. "Our errors put us in a hole and it's very tough to climb out of it and come back."
Said Navy Coach Paul Johnson: "We aren't the type of team that can turn the ball over as much as we did and still win. We made far too many mistakes to win the game."
Navy showed life in the second half, going 74 yards in 15 plays on its opening drive to draw within 21-14. Whittaker capped the drive on a nine-yard run.
Navy's defense appeared to finally stop Rutgers when junior outside linebacker David Mahoney forced freshman running back Ray Rice to fumble on the Navy 13-yard line. But the play was overturned after a video review, and the drive ended with sophomore Jeremy Ito's 18-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I thought it was a fumble," Mahoney said. "Apparently, they saw it differently."
The reversal was moot because after Navy pulled within 24-21 on senior slotback Marco Nelson's eight-yard touchdown catch, Rice scored on a two-yard run for Rutgers, making it 31-21 with 5 minutes 56 seconds remaining. Rice's touchdown came after a deflected pass Jake Biles thought he had intercepted in the end zone was ruled incomplete. But instant replay official Charles Phillips ruled the call on the field stood, and Navy never threatened again.
The ball "was in my hands, but that's the state of college football today," Biles said. "You can't blame the loss on instant replay."
Trailing 14-0 midway through the second quarter -- its largest deficit of the season -- Navy finally found the end zone. After junior fullback Matt Hall's four-yard run converted a fourth and one from the Navy 36-yard line, quarterback Lamar Owens, who finished with 42 yards rushing on 24 carries and completed 9 of 20 passes for 124 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, took the snap and ran left. But as the defense converged, he flipped the ball to sophomore slotback Reggie Campbell, who sprinted down the sideline. Campbell picked up some nice downfield blocks and cut inside at the 15 yard-line and evaded two would-be tacklers to cap a career-long 60-yard scoring run.
However, junior fullback Trey Hines fumbled on Navy's next possession, and Rutgers recovered on the Midshipmen 30-yard line, and Rice converted the turnover into a 21-7 lead by scoring on a three-yard run with 3:15 left in the half.
"I don't think we played to the best of our abilities today," said Campbell, who had four carries for a team-high 69 yards. "We made too many mistakes."