When Navy Coach Ken Niumatalalolo stands on the sideline at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, he’ll be across the field from many close friends with whom he shared years of memories as part of the Hawaii football program.
Born in Laie’, Hawaii, Niumatalolo played three years for Hawaii at quarterback before graduating in 1989, when the team made its first bowl appearance. He spent two years as a graduate assistant at Hawaii immediately following graduation and was hired as a full-time assistant in 1992.
Among the players Niumatalolo worked with as an assistant included Ivin Jasper, the Midshipmen’s offensive coordinator since 2007 who played quarterback and slotback for three seasons at Hawaii.
But such fond memories will take a back seat as Navy heads into its final stretch of the regular season seeking bowl eligibility, a winning record and outright ownership of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
“Ivin and I were talking about some of the guys that are coming, guys that we played with that are coming to the [Hawaii] game, so it’s special to play this game,” Niumatalolo said. “But once the ball rolls out, we’re trying to compete. They’re going to try to beat us, and we’re going to try and beat them.”
Navy is coming off Saturday’s 38-34 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in which the Midshipmen pushed last year’s BCS runner-up to the wire. Navy drove to the Notre Dame 31-yard line before its last-gasp drive petered out.
Notre Dame escaped with its third consecutive win in the series. But Navy was able to amass 331 rushing yards against what was then the country’s No. 42 run defense. The Midshipmen ran for their second-most yards in regulation against an FBS opponent this year and collected 28 first downs, the most for them in the history of the series.
Navy (4-4), however, allowed its most total yards of offense this season, giving up 506 and an average of nine yards per play. The Fighting Irish also averaged 7.3 yards per rush.
“I mean, that one hurts,” said senior linebacker Cody Peterson, whose 12 tackles led Navy against Notre Dame. “We all wanted that one really bad, but we have to move on.”
That was Niumatalolo’s message to the injury-depleted team this week in preparing for an opponent that has not won a game this season. Hawaii (0-8) has come close in several instances, including falling to 17th-ranked Fresno State, 42-37, and UNLV, 39-37.
Last week, Hawaii lost to Utah State, 47-10, after the team did not arrive in Logan, Utah, until 12 hours before kickoff. The Warriors had been grounded at Los Angeles International Airport because of the shooting that took place there.
“We’ve got to focus this week,” Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds said. “We can’t let what happened [against Notre Dame] affect us on Saturday.”
The Warriors make by far their longest road trip of the year armed with the country’s No. 22 passing attack. Senior quarterback Sean Schroeder has thrown for 1,699 yards with 14 touchdowns, completing 126 of 224 attempts (56.2 percent).
Schroeder will be facing a Navy front seven that is without one of its most productive interior linemen. Nose guard Bernard Sarra injured his left ankle against the Fighting Irish, and the sophomore watched practice this week wearing a cast around his calf and foot.
“I think Keenan is absolutely right,” Peterson said. “We really have no place to overlook anybody. We’re 4-4, been kind of up and down this season. I think we’re mature at this point. I think we realize we need to play at our highest level every weekend.”