Wake Forest Review: A Revival Against Wake

When souls go off the track and need spiritual healing, they might very well turn to their resident church deacon for support and some old-fashioned religious revival. For the Navy Midshipmen, a not-so-Demonic Deacon once again proved to be just the emotional tonic this team needed when its season was on the verge of unraveling.

Oh, this wasn't artful. It wasn't crisp or efficient. It wasn't the masterpiece Navy fans have become to accustomed to seeing over the past seven years. In fact, for the first 58 minutes, it resembled many of the contests this team has played during the Paul Johnson-Ken Niumatalolo salad days that have bestowed so many blessings on a proud and resurgent program that has spent the past decade awakening the echoes of Bellino, Staubach and McCallum.

The thing that gets lost in the shuffle when discussing the triumphant book "Navy Football: The High Seas of 2003-2009," is that many of the Mids' wins unfolded in a manner similar to what was seen this past Saturday against Wake Forest. When so many high-wire acts successfully avoid the long plunge into oblivion and leave breathless crowds cheering with the ecstasy which rightly accompanies the completion of a daring act, it's easy to think that the hero will always live to tell the story of his wondrous deeds.

When the margin for error is small, however – as it has been and will continue to be for Navy football – even the smallest regressions can and will carry enormous consequences. One lapse of concentration near the goal line can and will undo a 75-yard-drive that intended to go 80 or 85. One red-zone holding penalty against Air Force can put the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy in jeopardy. One nightmare (forget about four of them… let's just do it piece by piece) near Maryland's goal line can make 400-plus rushing yards irrelevant.

The young men who strap on the pads for Navy – especially on the offensive side of the ball – are proven performers who haven't forgotten how to play or win. Players who have put in the hard yards and have tasted the nectar of triumph do not "unlearn" how to win; the proper way to frame the first four games of the 2010 season for Ricky Dobbs and Company was that – like any other athletes – they simply didn't meet the moment the way they had in 2009. Competitive athletics involves constant repetition and therefore demands the ability to prove oneself again and again. The Midshipmen have proven themselves on many occasions over the years, with the many offensive veterans on the 2010 roster leading the way. The Men of Ken simply had to re-prove themselves against Wake Forest, as will be the case in their remaining seven contests this year.

Sure, the outlook was less than sunny when Wake Forest – down 21-17 – scored the next 10 points with a quarterback, Tanner Price, who had been markedly unsteady throughout the first five weeks of the season. Price threw for 326 yards and summarily shredded Navy's back line of defense for much of the evening at Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The display of aerial excellence stood in marked contrast to most of the Deacons' previous outings.

Wake Forest had not been able to score very many points in meaningful situations this season; the Deacs accumulated empty garbage scores in a 44-point loss at Stanford and they withered on the vine in the latter stages of a last-minute loss to a horrible Georgia Tech defense (24-20) the week before this matchup against the Mids. Moreover, those two performances don't even account for a shutout suffered at the hands of Florida State. If not for the tissue-thin defenses of Presbyterian (an FCS team) and a plummeting Duke squad, Wake's offensive numbers would be in the dumpster. The fact that Navy did such a good job of containing Air Force in week five made the Deacons' 403-yard day – and Price's 37-of-53 passing performance – that much more alarming for coordinator Buddy Green's unit. This is what created the scoreboard crisis Navy faced at crunch time.

When Dobbs got one more crack at the pigskin with 2:17 left at his own 36, a field goal was out of the question. The Mids had to cover 64 yards in limited time if they wanted to turn a white-knuckler in their direction. Mindful of a similar scenario the week before at Air Force (albeit with an eight-point deficit and not six), it was hardly a sure thing that Dobbs would get back on the saddle and guide his team to the finish line. A week ago, 21 points would have done the job in Colorado Springs, but against a renewed Demon Deacon offense, 28 points were going to be needed in order to prevail. Most likely, the final seven of those 28 points would have to come from the passing game. It's great when Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper can catch defenses off guard with an unexpected downfield pass attempt, but predictable throwing situations don't agree with Navy football. It would have been hard to conclude that the odds were in Navy's favor near the two-minute mark of regulation.

You saw the flow of this game. You sensed its progression. You remembered the struggle against Air Force and were all too aware of the almost-but-not-quite quality that had seeped into this season. Did you believe Navy was going to get the job done through the air?

Whether you did or not, life's sure a lot nicer on the sunshine side of the divide, isn't it?

One 34-yard pass to Gee Gee Greene removed the long-distance struggle from Navy's final-drive equation. Then, on a money-making third-and-one from the Wake 6, with the Deacons rightly expecting a run, the change-of-pace pass was pulled out of the grab bag by Jasper in a playcalling masterstroke. A fake pitch distorted the shape of Wake's defense and got the Deacs' linebackers completely out of position. Greg Jones slipped wide open in the right corner of the end zone and caught a lollipop from Dobbs for the tying tally with 26 seconds left. The Joe Buckley PAT made the Navy lead official, and while Wake made Navy sweat at the end – with Deacon receiver Josh Adams failing to haul in a pass within field goal range near the sideline – the bottom-line result fell once again in Navy's column. The Deacs had their stomachs punched in the final minute for the second straight week, but the folks at Navy – who have had their own insides turned upside-down this season – weren't about to apologize for their actions.

Hopefully, a team just got back on the training bike again.

Hopefully, this escape will breathe fresh confidence into a club that sorely needed an infusion of joy.

Hopefully, the reality of a wining endgame drive will enable Navy to flourish in the weeks ahead, playing well enough that when the final minutes arrive, the Midshipmen will be owning a multi-possession lead instead of having to erase yet another deficit.

Had Navy lost, a bowl bid would have been in serious jeopardy. Thankfully, the Midshipmen and their fans don't have to walk down that path.

A close game has once again been captured by the Men of Ken with their rediscovered zen.

You may breathe easier… until the next kickoff, Saturday against Southern Methodist.

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