After falling behind 19-14 in the third quarter, the Mids scored consecutive second-half touchdowns to take a 29-19 lead. Vanderbilt cut the lead to 29-26 with 2:30 left to play when Marlon White in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown pass. But Navy recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Midshipmen were able to run out the clock to seal the win.
The Commodores had hoped to bounce back from last week's heartbreaking overtime loss to Kelechi Ohanaja, Vandy dropped its fourth game in a row and its 14th straight on the road.
Vanderbilt blocked a punt for a safety in the second half and limited Navy's vaunted triple-option rushing attack to 71 yards in the first half. But the Midshipmen adjusted and reeled off two long second-half drives which produced touchdowns. Vanderbilt's offense, meanwhile, produced 329 total yards but sputtered at critical times in the second half.
"They played more physical than we did in the second half," said running back Norval McKenzie, who led the team with 54 yards rushing. "We had some lapses in the second half, and turnovers really killed us."
The game could hardly have gotten off to a worse start for the Commodores. On the first play from scrimmage Cutler coughed up the football at the Vandy 27. But the Commodore defense held the Midshipmen to an errant field goal attempt, and both teams were scoreless in the first quarter.
Cutler broke the ice just inside the second quarter when he found Patrick Johnson's PAT put Vandy ahead 7-0.
But Navy would strike back quickly. Trey Hines culminated the drive on a 2-yard pitch play, and suddenly Vandy was staring at a 14-7 deficit.
But the Commodores, keyed by a 38-yard catch-and-run by Marlon White, would respond with a Navy-esque 79-yard, 13-play, time-consuming drive just before halftime to tie the game. With the game clock ticking down, Jay Cutler squirmed and stuck the ball over the goal line on a fourth-and-inches play, and the teams went to the break tied 14-14.
Early in the second half Norval McKenzie blocked Eric Shuey's punt through the back of the end zone for a safety. Kwane Doster returned the ensuing kickoff to the Navy 48, and the Dores moved into position for a 44-yard Patrick Johnson field goal that gave Vandy a 19-14 lead.
The Midshipmen took the lead back on a 74-yard drive, culminated by a 5-yard pitch play to Frank Divis and a 2-point conversion. Early in the fourth quarter Navy scored again on a 68-yard drive, and the Mids' lead reached 29-19.
Vanderbilt cut the lead to 29-26 with 2:30 left, but could not stop Navy on its final possession. After Navy converted on a fourth-and-inches inside the final minute, the frustration showed for Vanderbilt, as Robert Dinwiddie was ejected from the game for making physical contact with an official.
Vanderbilt returns home next Saturday to host SEC foe Air Force Thursday at Colorado Springs in a nationally-televised game.
Wide receiver Erik Davis (dislocated toe), safety Kelechi Ohanaja (quadriceps) and offensive tackle Justin Geisinger (sprained knee) all sat out the game with injuries. For Geisinger, it broke a string of 26 consecutive starts.
Robert Dinwiddie moved from defensive tackle to end for the game, and Marcus Buggs got his first career start at strong safety, and Andrew Pace started in Ohanaja's place at free safety.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Jennings (6-1, 225, Dandridge, Tenn.) saw his first significant action and gained 27 yards on 7 carries.
Paul Johnson fell to 2-6, including 0-2 at Vanderbilt. The two coaches were familiar foes when Bobby coached at Furman and Paul coached Georgia Southern. (Navy/Vanderbilt) took a 3-2-2 lead in the all-time series between the two schools, which dates back to 1907.
Navy slotback Eric Roberts became only the 35th player in Division I-A history to go over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a career.