Unlike three weeks ago, when the Midshipmen notched a thrilling win over Air Force, Saturday’s heroics were delivered by Bijan Nichols, whose kick came while the star quarterback’s eyes were closed — and those of the head coach — in prayer. The scene was similar, though: a wild celebration on the Navy sideline.
Nichols wound up perched on his teammates’ shoulders, his kick securing Navy’s bowl eligibility for the 15th time in 17 years.
“I’ve seen him make that kick a lot in practice. You know, at the end of practice everybody’s screaming, everybody’s trying to get in his head, trying to emulate that situation on the field,” quarterback Malcolm Perry said. “I’ve seen him do it before, and I was really confident in him, but, um — my eyes were closed.”
There was nothing left for Perry to do at that point. The quarterback had done his job and gotten Navy into field goal range with under a minute left with a seven-play, 44-yard drive that hinged on his 21-yard scramble. In what was a breakout game from sophomore fullback Jamale Carothers, the scramble was one of Perry’s few big runs of the night.
“I had a really good feeling our offense was going to get me in range if not score, so I knew to be ready,” Nichols said. “ . . . It’s just so much fun to be a part of the brotherhood, be at the academy, and — I did not expect this when I showed up for [Induction Day].”
Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo usually centers the ball for field goals but kept it at the left hash, Nichols’s preferred spot, for the game-winning kick.
“He’s as talented a kicker as we’ve ever had — he’s a cool-for-school kid, though,” Niumatalolo said. “The way he talks, his monotone voice, that’s him. He’s easygoing. Nothing little rattles him. . . . You need a kicker like that, who doesn’t get rattled and has some ice in his veins. I’m proud of him.”
Niumatalolo also praised the resolve of the rest of his team, which withstood a furious Green Wave rally to improve to 6-1, 4-1 in the American Athletic Conference.
Perry and Carothers led an offense that controlled the first half, building a 24-0 lead and taking a 31-14 margin into intermission.
The offense screeched to a halt in the second half, however, and Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan’s one-yard run with 61 seconds left tied the score at 38, setting the stage for Perry and Nichols in the game’s dying moments.
Carothers rushed for a career-high 154 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Perry rushed for 142 yards on 22 carries and completed 2 of 7 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception.
Navy gained 453 total yards to 477 for Tulane (5-3, 2-2).
The first half began as a virtual clinic for the Midshipmen, who scored touchdowns on their first three drives (a 52-yard run from Carothers, a 35-yard run from Carothers and a 31-yard catch by — who else? — Carothers, from Perry). Tulane went three-and-out on each of its first three drives.
Tulane’s defense found its footing in the third quarter, and the Green Wave trimmed its margin to 31-28 by the start of the final quarter.
McMillan, a graduate transfer from LSU, completed 20 of 29 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, including one that sophomore linebacker Diego Fagot returned for a touchdown in the second quarter, and was sacked four times. Tulane was without top rushers Corey Dauphine (wrist injury) and Darius Bradwell (leg injury) for the second week in a row.
The Green Wave stormed back without them, and Navy’s defense blamed the poor second half on too many missed assignments and too many missed tackles.
“Hopefully we don’t have too many more of these games. I don’t know if I can handle more of these,” Niumatalolo said. “Just proud of our kids, their resilience and their fight. That’s a great win, and after last year, it’s great to be bowl eligible. I’m never going to take that for granted again.”