2010 Poinsettia Bowl, As It Happened

This was a solid season for Navy, but everyone around the program knows that in each of the team's four losses, the outcome could have been different. At any rate, well done Ricky Dobbs, owner of one of the greatest careers in Navy football history. The Navy football family is grateful for your many contributions.

13:22 left, first quarter: Miracles do happen – no, not Navy getting a defensive stop against San Diego State, but Craig James making a lucid and meaningful point on the ESPN broadcast. Navy can give up short passes, but not the long ones. Make Ryan Lindley, the Aztecs' quarterback, "matriculate the ball down the field." Don't surrender home runs inside the former home of the San Diego Padres.

11:24: A vanilla start to the evening for coordinator Ivin Jasper and the Mids' offense. That's okay; Navy needs to find its sea legs. The mushy and waterlogged turf will take a little time to get used to, anyway. Defense is priority number one for Navy in this first quarter.

10:45: On second and three, a running down, San Diego State coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges are happy to throw the ball 20 yards downfield. That's how much the Aztecs like the matchups in the passing game. Take note, Buddy Green.

9:06: Navy's margin of error on the offensive side of the ball just left the building. Ricky Dobbs has to answer that easy touchdown drive.

8:35: Sure, nice run by Dobbs to the 44, but as we've had to learn with Navy's offense this season, driving the ball to midfield isn't the problem. It's finishing drives, so let's hold off on the "enthusiasm/hopeful signs" meter for now.

7:19: And that dropped pitch is why excitement isn't merited until a touchdown is scored. Navy with many miles to go on this drive and (even more so) in this game.

7:06: Why are there two receivers within six yards of each other on a deep route? The underneath receiver dragged a San Diego State defender with him into the area of the ball. That's a mix-up laden with consequences.

4:08: Ruh-roh. Loose lips sink Navy ships… and so do missed tackles on the edge. Vincent Brown has already put the Midshipmen at the point of no return. Louisville got blitzed in the first few minutes of Tuesday's St. Petersburg Bowl and overcame a 14-0 deficit to win. Navy has to do the same thing, but San Diego State has a more consistent offense and a generally more complete team than the Southern Miss squad Louisville defeated two nights ago.

0:22: That fourth-down conversion was as close to a must-convert as a first-quarter snap gets. This game can't become 21-0, period. Points are not an option on this drive, and seven points are strongly recommended. The use of the pitch play – which was there on the second-down run but was thwarted because of a tackle by the turf (aka, a slip by the pitch man) – proved to be very smart on fourth down. San Diego State was loading the tackle box, so Dobbs was wise to take the play outside.

0:03: The chances of scoring seven points just took a huge hit, one play after that fourth-down conversion. A nasty piece of whiplash suffered by the Men of Ken Niumatalolo.

End of First Quarter Score: San Diego State 14, Navy 0.

14:10 left, second quarter: So, as everyone predicted, Navy scores its first touchdown on a 3rd-and-19 pass. Who cares? Navy got the back-in-the-game lifeline it needed. Remember that San Diego State blew a 27-10 lead in San Diego (on this very same Qualcomm Stadium field) against Utah. The Aztecs start well, but they don't finish well. Navy has just caused some doubt to creep into the minds of the hosts from the Mountain West Conference. How will San Diego State respond?

12:25: If that fumble is any indication, not very well.

8:16: If Navy can cover the final third of the field here, the Midshipmen will lead San Diego State, 14-14, if you get my drift. San Diego State had complete control of this game, but the nature of the battle has changed considerably.

6:14: After a good decision by Niumatalolo to punt, that's a costly failure on punt coverage. That ball should have been stopped at the 3. The bodies were there in time; ideally, the pigskin should be caught in the air, but the larger point is that someone needs to find the ball. San Diego State has to feel great about that last exchange of possessions. It was easy to think that Navy was going to even things up on the scoreboard, but the Aztecs displayed some much-needed and timely resilience.

4:32: Important athletic competitions don't just demand playmaking; they demand timely playmaking. Navy couldn't pin the punt on the SDSU 3, and now the Mids couldn't get the Aztecs off the field on third and six. San Diego State has been the better team in key situations so far, and it's why the Mountain (West) Men are showing signs of retaking control at Qualcomm.

3:15: Speaking of retaking control…. Touchdown, Ronnie Hillman, and Navy is officially in a deep pool of (waterlogged) trouble.

0:49: The third-and-one conversion is nice, but Navy needs YARDS, and LOTS of them. Niumatalolo has to think about the bigger picture here…

0:25: LIKE THAT! YEAH, EXACTLY LIKE THAT. Greg Jones to the rescue again!

0:17: Since Navy gets the ball to start the second half, a field goal is okay if SDSU forces a fourth down. But let's get seven and not worry about it.

0:10: Navy isn't a passing team, but the Mids need to squeeze two plays in here. Can they do that in under 10 seconds? If Navy runs, it has to be a pitch to the boundary.

0:07: Well, that was one huge all-or-nothing decision, but since Navy's bread-and-butter is that very play (the one Maryland stuffed three and a half months ago), I can live with it. In baseball, there's a phrase for what Niumatalolo and Jasper just did: "If you're going to get beat, get beat with your best pitch." Navy's best pitch was better than San Diego State. It had to be, or else this game would have felt very close to being over at the half. Now, the Midshipmen – who get the ball first in the second half – are right back in this contest. What a rollercoaster ride in Southern California.

Halftime Score: San Diego State 21, Navy 14.

12:33 left, third quarter: Textbook execution converts a fourth down with the outside pitch again. Maybe Navy can finally tie the game.

12:02: There's Navy's third big-play pass. The Midshipmen have won with such regularity since 2003 because they can throw over the top of defenses who stack the tackle box. Army has not been able to do that with the same regularity.

9:32: A lot was said in the preview of this game about San Diego State's inability to close down opponents. Well, Navy has struggled to finish drives and polish off other teams as well. Jasper dialed up the perfect call on fourth-and-goal from the 3, but a mistimed catch attempt keeps the Aztecs in front. Navy has displayed a chronic inability to enjoy some small shred of sustained prosperity tonight.

6:53: The last time Navy failed to tie the score, San Diego State immediately proceeded to bump the lead back to 14 points. This time, the Mids – a lot like the first drive of the game – allowed the dink-and-dunk stuff for half a field, but then tightened near the 50. There's no predictable feel or flow to this game; not at all. Navy just has to take this thing by the horns. Can the Mids keep scorching the SDSU secondary with pass plays of more than 25 yards? A 30-yard running play could really come in handy right now, because that will put the Aztecs' defense on edge and set up more wrinkles from Mr. Jasper's playbook.

4:34: Every now and then, San Diego State has been able to blunt Navy's momentum by getting a tackle-for-loss of at least four yards on first down, right after a big gainer from the Midshipmen. On one of those prior occasions, Navy did hit a 3rd-and-19 touchdown pass. However, the Mids can't tempt fate this many times. Big negative plays on first down will put the brakes on their best efforts to finally tie this game.

3:27: The long ball was once again open on third and a mile (14 yards to be precise), but Dobbs overthrew Gee Gee Greene. This game is depressingly familiar for the 2010 Midshipmen. A lot of near misses and not-quites and coulda-woulda-shouldas.

1:12: Yet again, Navy's inability to finish a drive and tie the score has the Midshipmen in huge trouble. The pattern repeats itself as the Aztecs finally get their passing game rolling again. Navy's defense has definitely been up to the task. The many missed opportunities on the offensive side of the ball are too prominent to ignore.

0:02: San Diego State got shut out in the third quarter. The Aztecs still lead by seven, and now they're in chip-shot field goal range. This is the quarter that will be written about a lot if Navy can't mount a fourth-quarter comeback.
End of Third Quarter Score: San Diego State 21, Navy 14.

14:57 left, fourth quarter: Absolutely no margin for error the rest of the way. Navy can shave one touchdown off a 14-point deficit, but the second score has proven to be elusive for the Men of Ken. Buckle up…

13:12: WHAT?!?!?!???!?!? Punting on fourth and three when trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter?! Did a coaching staff just get body-snatched? A federal investigation must commence immediately. Seriously – this correspondent is gobsmacked. That just. Doesn't. Happen. EVER. Not when trailing by 14 in the final stanza.

12:00: Really – that was pretty much tantamount to throwing in the towel. As Jack Buck said after Kirk Gibson's home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, "I don't believe what I just saw."

6:07: Goodnight, game over, drive home safely, and Merry Christmas to one and all.

0:00: San Diego State finished more drives and made more timely plays. The failed connection on fourth-and-goal from the 3 in the third quarter was the play of the game. A general inability to move the ball on the ground inside the SDSU 30 is what caught the Midshipmen in this game. San Diego State's defensive line outworked the Mids' offensive front when it really mattered. This was a solid season for Navy, but everyone around the program knows that in each of the team's four losses, the outcome could have been different. At any rate, well done Ricky Dobbs, owner of one of the greatest careers in Navy football history. The Navy football family is grateful for your many contributions; best wishes in your service to a team much bigger and more important than a band of brothers in shoulder pads and helmets.

Final Score: San Diego State 35, Navy 14.

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