Shortly following a heartbreaking loss to visiting Air Force last season, several members of the Navy football team sat on a podium just outside their locker room to talk with reporters about an official’s call that greatly impacted the outcome.
Fullback Alexander Teich was asked about an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against teammate Kriss Proctor after the quarterback scored the go-ahead touchdown in overtime. The penalty resulted in a 35-yard extra-point attempt that was blocked, and Air Force won, 35-34, with a touchdown and extra point on the ensuing series.
“Pitiful” was how Teich described the call, moments after Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said of the officials, “I hope those guys can sleep well tonight.”
Time has blunted some of the sting from that loss, and as the Midshipmen (1-3) prepare for the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy on Saturday in Colorado Springs, redemption is only part of the narrative.
“I really don’t think about it too much,” said senior slotback Gee Gee Greene, who scored the tying touchdown with 19 seconds left in regulation on a five-yard reception in last year’s game. “At that point it was a devastating loss of course, but it’s a new season, it’s a new year, and we’ve got another opportunity to go out there and play against them and try to get a win.”
Of immediate concern is a sputtering offense coming off one of its least productive outings since Navy began running the triple-option offense in 2002. In last Saturday’s 12-0 loss to San Jose State, the Midshipmen failed to score for the first time in six years, and their 144 yards of offense were their second fewest in a decade.
In three games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, Navy has combined to score 17 points, and its 14.5 points per game overall ranks 117th out of 120 FBS teams. After having finished no worse than sixth nationally in rushing over the last 10 years, the Midshipmen are 24th in that category this season.
Throw in 12 turnovers through four games, including 10 by quarterback Trey Miller, and it’s no wonder why Navy is a prohibitive underdog against the two-time defending Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winner.
Air Force (2-2), meantime, leads the nation in rushing (396.3 yards per game), has not allowed a sack and is 20th in total offense (500.3) and 28th in points per game (37.8).
“Just like we forgot about last week, we’ve got to forget about last year,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s 2012, and we’ve got some issues that we’re trying to deal with this year, much less our issue we had last year.”
Injuries are compounding Navy’s worst opening stretch since 2002. Senior slotback John Howell is lost for the season with a torn ACL, as is junior cornerback Jonathan Wev, who has given up football because of a concussion.
Wide receiver Matt Aiken has been out since the preseason with a knee injury, but the junior appears on track to play Saturday in what could be uninviting conditions. Weather forecasters are calling for temperatures in the high 30s with a 50 percent chance of snow and rain.
Safety Tra’ves Bush left last Saturday’s game with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet collision in the first half and did not re-enter. His status is day-to-day.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get back on track,” Greene said. “Even if we weren’t playing Air Force, just getting that win, we’re in a slump right now, we’re 1-3 right now. Just getting a ‘W’ no matter who the opponent is would be good for confidence right now.”