Navy 49, Tulane 21
Navy began the week as a gracious host, giving Tulane an extra $50,000 to cover the football program's expenses and arranging complimentary hotel rooms complete with gift bags for the team's traveling party. But Navy's hospitality for a university displaced by Hurricane Katrina ceased at kickoff yesterday, as the Midshipmen bullied their way to 49-21 victory on a sun-swept afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"I feel really bad for [Tulane Coach] Chris Scelfo because his team's been through so much," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "But I wanted to win the game."
Navy (5-3) scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, forced four turnovers and finished with 447 yards of total offense in handing Tulane its fifth consecutive loss.
"All we had to do was talk about last week's game [a 31-21 loss to Rutgers] and last year's game [against Tulane] and that was incentive enough," junior linebacker Tyler Tidwell said, referring to last season's 42-10 loss. "I think everyone was shocked that Tulane beat us so bad."
Navy did much to impress the homecoming crowd of 33,608 and the officials from the Liberty and Poinsettia Bowls, who expressed interest in extending Navy an invitation provided it wins the required six games to be bowl eligible.
"We're not fishing here: We want the Naval Academy to know that as soon as they win their sixth game, the welcome mat is out," said Peter Hedley, who is on the Poinsettia Bowl's board of directors. "We want them to come to San Diego."
"We think this year we have a great opportunity for Navy to come to the Liberty Bowl," said Steve Ehrhart, the bowl's executive director. "I think they'd be a great fit."
Navy will look to pick up its sixth victory next Saturday at Notre Dame, which has defeated the Midshipmen an NCAA-record 41 straight games. Navy finishes the regular season against Temple and Army, which entered yesterday having won a combined one game.
"I definitely think this was a huge game because of where we stood in the season and we had to get to 5-3 heading into Notre Dame," said junior fullback Matt Hall, who rushed for a career- and game-high 109 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. "This was a must-win game for us."
Navy, which rushed for a season-high 418 yards, established its ground game early. The Midshipmen scored four touchdowns in the first 11 minutes 18 seconds on drives of 40, 25, 42 and 50 yards in which they ran 19 consecutive running plays.
Tulane, playing its eighth game in as many stadiums, committed three turnovers in the first half -- all converted into Navy touchdowns -- as the Midshipmen jumped out to a 35-0 lead and never looked back.
After Tulane was forced to punt from deep inside its own territory on its opening possession, the Midshipmen took over at the Green Wave 40-yard line. Navy needed just five running plays to find the end zone, as senior quarterback Lamar Owens (16 carries for 80 yards, 1-of-2 passing for 29 yards) scored his first of three touchdowns with an eight-yard run, marking Navy's first touchdown on an opening series since its season opener against Maryland.
It got better for Navy on the ensuing kickoff, as junior Byron McCoy forced Tulane's Israel Route to fumble, with Navy junior Tye Adams recovering on the 25-yard line. And just like in its first drive, Navy ran five straight running plays with Owens capping the drive with a one-yard plunge for a 14-0 lead with 10:10 left in the first quarter.
"That was just a really embarrassing performance in the first half," Scelfo said. "Give Navy credit. They wanted it more than we did today and that was evident."