Well that wasn't pretty. The Navy Midshipmen overcame four lost fumbles and its struggling offense to defeat the hometown San Diego State Aztecs 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl. There were a total of seven turnovers in this ugly defensive game. The winning drive was set up when the Mids striker linebacker Chris Johnson forced and recovered a fumble by SDSU's running back Donnel Pumphrey. Navy kicker Austin Grebe kicked a go-ahead, 24-yard field goal with 1 minute, 27 seconds left. B-back Chris Swain converted on a fourth-and-1 with a 13-yard gain. Two plays later Ryan Williams-Jenkins took a pitch 28 yards to set up the game winning field goal by Grebe. San Diego State then drove 47-yards against the Mids defense which had played very well. San Diego State lined up for the game winner but kicker Donny Hageman was wide right on a 34-yard field goal attempt with 20 seconds left to allow Navy to hold on. Hageman had made his first three field goal attempts for the Aztecs and 83 percent of his previous kicks before pushing his last attempt wide right. This is the second time in school history the Mids won a bowl game in back-to-back years. It was the first time they defeated San Diego State in four tries. Navy's victory broke San Diego State's eight-game home field winning streak at Qualcomm Stadium. Navy finished the season with an 8-5 record.
PASSING OFFENSE: D
Keenan Reynolds completed only 3-of -7 passes for just 17 yards. Reynolds was sacked twice and had very little time to throw against the Aztecs' 3-3-5 defense. Reynolds first pass on the opening scoring drive was a long throw to Ryan Williams-Jenkins who was wide-open but Keenan overshot him.
Reynolds opened the next drive with a six yard completion to wide receiver Brendan Dudeck (2 rec. for 15 yards) before Navy lost one of their fumbles on the next play. Reynolds completed his next pass on third down to Geoffrey Whiteside for just two yards which left the Mids short of the first down. Navy's running game got the first down the next play. The series broke down when Reynolds scrambled and threw to the wrong shoulder of wide receiver Thomas Wilson who had to knock down the pass. Reynolds was sacked on the next two plays as he had no time to throw. The following series it was ruled that Marc Meier initially caught a pass but the replay official ruled it a trap and Navy was forced to punt.
In the second half he hit Dudeck for a nine yard completion but Navy was forced to punt a play later. Keenan had Jamir Tillman open with a step on the sidelines deep but poorly threw a pass out of bounds.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-
Navy ran for 254 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry and two scores.
Navy's offense lost three fumbles. The Mids had a lot of trouble up front dealing with the Aztecs multiple and shifting fronts. San Diego State was able to shoot gaps to create negative plays and force some of the turnovers and kept Navy out of synch.
They were determined not to allow Keenan Reynolds to beat them. Reynolds scored twice but gained just 9 net yards on 19 carries and fumbled twice. One was a forced poor pitch when he was pressured and should have held the ball and taken the loss. The other was a poor center/QB exchange that never seemed to leave the ground. Reynolds had a rough game dealing with the Aztecs front seven but did just enough to get the win.
At B-back Noah Copeland (12 att., 63 yards) had a key third down 15-yard run on the opening touchdown drive of the second half. Chris Swain led the Mids with 72 rushing yards on eight carries. Swain's gained 13 yards on a game saving fourth-and-one play during the final game winning drive.
Slotback Ryan Williams-Jenkins ran eight times for 67 yards. Ryan had a Mids game long 28-yard run to set up the final field goal.
Williams-Jenkins was stripped on a counter play which gave SDSU a short field by was bailed out by George Jamison's interception.
DeBrandon Sanders (4 att., 24 yards) had a few nice runs were he showed his run skills on the edge. Geoffrey Whiteside carried six times for 20 yards. Whiteside had a ten yard run during the opening offensive series on a 4th-and-three to help set up the touchdown. The three lost fumbles deserve a "D" grade but the last drive to set up the game winning field goal made this a “C-“ because the offense was able to pull itself together to take the lead when it had to make a play.
PASSING DEFENSE: A+
The Mids secondary allowed San Diego State's quarterback Quinn Kaehler to complete only 11-of-27 passes for just 141 passing yards. The Mids picked off two passes and allowed no touchdown passes.
Daniel Gonzales (6 tackles, INT) stopped the Aztecs promising opening drive with a third down interception. Chris Johnson (5 tackles, FF, PD) pressured off edge and San Diego State's Kaehler threw behind the receiver allowing Gonzalez intercepted the ball.
Rover George Jamison (4 tackles, INT) had a big interception in Navy territory after Williams-Jenkins fumble. He broke up two other passes and nearly had another pick to close out his career. He was a key contributor down the stretch.
Cornerback Quincy Adams (6 tackles, PD) broke up the fourth down pass at the goal line when Rocky Long made the strange decision to pass up the field goal and go for the touchdown when up two points.
Free safety Parrish Gaines (3 tackles, PD) had a key third down pass break up to force the SDSU field goal to make it 13-7 and keep the Mids within a score. Cornerback Brandon Clements (1 tackle) played well and had an outstanding night in coverage.
RUSHING DEFENSE: B+
The Mids held the impressive San Diego running game to 186 rushing yards, a 5.6 per yard average and a single touchdown. There were times in the first half when it looked like SDSU was going to run the ball at will but in the end Donnel Pumphrey carried 21 times with a long run of just 14 yards.
Jordan Drake led the Mids with 13 tackles. Chris Johnson forced and recovered a key fumble to allow Navy to take the lead late in the game. At nose guard Bernie Sarra had three tackles and did a nice job holding the point of attack. Will Anthony (2 tackles, TFL) had a big tackle for a four yard loss to stop the Aztecs last drive before the end of the half. Anthony pinched too hard along with Clements to give up outside containment on San Diego State's only touchdown run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Kicker Austin Grebe ended the season as Mr. Perfect in nailing all his attempts. He hit the clutch 24-yard game winner with 1:27 left in the game. The kick coverage, which had been great all year, had its worst game all season as Grebe was forced to make two tackles. Shelley White redeemed the group a bit with a nice hit on the final kickoff. Pablo Beltran ended his brilliant career with a 42.8 average and two punts placed inside the twenty yard line.
DeBrandon Sanders lost a fumbled punt deep Navy territory
that cost a field goal. Ryan Williams-Jenkins had the chance to return kicks with the injury suffered during practice by Demond Brown. One of his kick returns was for thirty yards.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo's team had a short week of practice while facing final exams then traveled across the country after defeating their biggest rival to play this game. With all the adversity and mistakes he said it best that "I have no idea how we won the game". I was surprised he didn't use his timeouts before the end of the first half. He decided to burn a timeout to ice SDSU kicker Donny Hageman and it worked. Call it the time out from God II.
Ivin Jasper's offense struggled but was able to finish the few promising drives they had and the final drive for the game winning field goal. Buddy Green's defense had a great game and held the Aztecs to a single score and field goals after being dealt short field because of four turnovers and poor kick coverage all game. San Diego State's Quinn Kaehler seems to have been the type of quarterback Buddy had in mind when he designed the bend-but-don't break scheme.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Navy somehow found a way to win this ugly seven turnover game. Rocky Long had won eight straight games coming in against service academy teams. This game took the defensive feel of a service academy game which surprised me since I thought there would be more offense. Navy proved its resiliency and toughness by staying in the game on defense until the offense was able to put together a late drive for the victory. Like the entire season, nothing came easy and the Mids were often their worst enemy. Still I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day.
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