Do You Know The Way To Devastation?

The Navy Midshipmen knew the way to San Jose, California, but they didn't know how to get to the end zone often enough, especially when their defense didn't set them up with a short field. As a result, what had seemed to be a salvageable season now lies in ruins.


Life often fails to bring the blessing of a second chance. Some moments can't be repeated and some opportunities don't pass by more than once. For the 2011 Navy Midshipmen, however, this was the do-over. This was the make-up game. This was the "if we win this all our goals are in place" event, the occasion to make things right and enter the Dec. 10 encounter with Army on good terms. A win over the San Jose State Spartans – a 3-7 team that had not won at least four games in a season since 2008 – would have allowed Navy to play Army with a bowl bid on the line. The Midshipmen, for all their struggles and trials and travails over two and a half months, would have been in position to extend their streak of consecutive bowl-bearing seasons to nine.

The setup was in place. The narrative was there, waiting to be written. One win over a historically poor program with a penchant for making mistakes was all Navy needed to turn its 2-6 record a few weeks ago into a 5-6 mark. The heavy lifting had been done one week earlier at Southern Methodist, a team with talent far greater than anything San Jose State had to offer. After a season of ups and downs, of bad calls endured and injuries absorbed, coach Ken Niumatalolo's team enjoyed comparatively better health and the benefits of a reinvigorated defense which locked down SMU on Nov. 12. The Men of Ken didn't need to be spectacular in this game; merely a sound and steady performance was going to get the job done. One solid and workmanlike afternoon on the West Coast was going to allow this program –which had churned out one steady eight- or nine-win season after the other for so long – to reach a bowl game in a different way.

No, it's not better to make a bowl at 6-6 compared to 8-4 or 9-3, but Navy's ability to keep its bowl streak alive THIS season, in light of all the problems that had bedeviled the Mids through October, would have made a Military Bowl bid particularly sweet and special. Making a bowl this season would have become, weirdly yet undeniably, a point of immense pride and satisfaction for one of the most consistent and reliable programs of the past decade in major college football. A victory in San Jose would have made the Army game everything Mids fans expect it to be: not just a win in itself, but a portal to the postseason and the furtherance of this program's success. A fightback from a 2-6 record would have made this season surprisingly delicious, given the six-game skid that left the Mids reeling a few weeks ago.

The second chance was there. The Thanksgiving weekend and another early-December bye week were about to be enjoyed, knowing that a bowl bid was still there for the taking on Dec. 10. Just one solid game after 10 weeks of inconsistency; that's all this team needed to deliver.

Nope.

The mistakes that hounded and haunted the Midshipmen for two and a half months lingered at Spartan Stadium in Silicon Valley. No, a blocked field goal wasn't part of the mix, but everything else that made the first 10 weeks of the season so wrong came back to bite the Mids in the backside. Once again, Kriss Proctor was manifestly inconsistent as a passer, unable to hit the open vertical shots that would have given wing to Navy's offense. Proctor missed Aaron Santiago and other receivers precisely when the Mids' triple-option attack – as it has done for so long – pried open a ripe, juicy opportunity for a big play through the air.

The other familiar shortcomings made the trip to San Jose as well. Once again, the Mids got stuffed after having a 2nd and goal situation inside an opponent's 4-yard line. What happened against Southern Mississippi and Rutgers reared its ugly head once more as a third-quarter drive that needed to post seven points – in a game led by San Jose State, 20-14 – produced only three. In the fourth quarter, a 15-yard penalty turned a red-zone trip into an empty trip for the Mids, who – when trailing 27-24 – could have benefited a great deal from a three-point tally. This contest really was a 2011 season summary, an ugly scene which resurrected all the demons that had been present during the six-game slide which made this game a bowl-or-bust deathmatch in the first place. However, the particularly salient point to be made in all this is that this was a second chance. It's true that South Carolina… and Air Force… and Southern Miss… and Rutgers… and East Carolina… and Notre Dame all went wrong (some of them early on, others at the very end of regulation), but against San Jose State, the Mids could have blotted out those painful memories by getting their act together. The fact that they couldn't – under markedly auspicious conditions against an opponent bereft of any stature or swagger – represents a thunderous failure, a ringing disappointment that should rightly linger through an offseason that will be the longest in Annapolis since the Mids put their 2002 season to bed.

The Army game still means the world to Navy, and it should always be thus. However, there's no late-December game following the clash with the Black Knights this time. For the first time in nine seasons, there's no reward at the end of the rainbow, no postseason pageant to enjoy and prepare for.

It's all because this second-chance stage in San Jose, this occasion to get things right and salvage a season, was wasted by a team that could never fully solve its foremost problems.

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