Navy 38, Temple 17
After a 38-17 win over Temple yesterday in front of a crowd of 30,261 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Navy defensive end Jeremy Chase posed with his fellow senior football teammates for a picture and reflected on more than just the victory that made the Midshipmen eligible to play in a bowl game.
"The past four years have been just an incredible journey," he said. "You see where this team was then and see where it is now; it's just amazing to see how far we've come."
Navy, which will announce tomorrow what bowl invitation it will accept, improved to 6-4 by combining the efforts of its established seniors with those of players who are expected on take over their production next fall.
Senior quarterback Lamar Owens rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns, and senior slotback Marco Nelson rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown. Blossoming sophomore fullback Adam Ballard carried 29 times for a career-high 167 yards -- the most by a Midshipman this season -- and two touchdowns as Navy shut out Temple in the second half.
"When you come here, everyone says to look for the light at the end of the tunnel," said Owens, who also completed 4 of 11 passes for 120 yards. "But the tunnel seemed a long way away. We've come a long way."
Consider: In the three seasons combined before this year's seniors were plebes in 2002, Navy had gone 3-30 and was one of the worst teams in college football. And things didn't get better early on, as the Midshipmen won just two games in 2002 before launching one of the most successful three-year runs in their history.
Navy went 8-5 in 2003 and lost to Texas Tech in the Houston Bowl, the Midshipmen's first bowl appearance in seven seasons. Navy went 10-2 last year after defeating New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl, marking its most victories in 99 years.
And now, Navy will maintain its place atop the hierarchy of service academies by winning the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the third straight year with a victory over Army (4-6) on Dec. 3 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
"Who would've thunk it," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "Give the kids credit. We're not always pretty, but we find a way."
Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said he will announce the Midshipmen's postseason plans tomorrow, but the destination probably will be the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 22, the only bowl that had offered the academy an invitation as of last night. The other possibilities include the Liberty Bowl and Houston Bowl. Navy has never played in a bowl game three straight years.
Meantime, Temple has taken the Midshipmen's place as one of the college football's most inept teams. The Owls (0-11) did not win a game on the field for the first time in 1959. In 1986, Temple forfeited all six of its wins for using an ineligible player.
Trailing 17-14 entering the third quarter, Navy tied the score when sophomore Joey Bullen made a 25-yard field goal which was set up by a 62-yard pass Owens to Nelson, the team's longest reception of the season.
Navy junior Andrew Tattersall blocked a field goal attempt on Temple's next possession, and the Midshipmen capitalized. Navy marched right down the field, covering 80 yards in eight plays. Owens capped the drive when he scored on an 11-yard run in which he bowled over junior safety Garrett Schultz at the goal line to give his team a 24-17 lead with 14:15 left in the game.
"I think you need a break every game," junior linebacker Rob Caldwell said of Tattersall's block. "And that was the break we needed in this game."
Ballard, who replaced junior starter Matt Hall after he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Notre Dame, added a four-yard run with 3:05 left and junior defensive end John Chan punctuated the win by returning a fumble 41 yards for his first career touchdown.
Midshipmen Note: Slot back Karlos Whittaker, who has scored a plebe-record six touchdowns this season, injured his left knee while being tackled in the third quarter and did not return. He is expected to undergo tests tomorrow to determine the extent of the injury.