EagleBank Bowl, As It Happened

The Navy Midshipmen fell to Wake Forest, 29-19, in the EagleBank Bowl. Here are random thoughts from Matt Zemek as the game happened.

13:09 left, first quarter: That's a flat and indifferent first offensive series for Wake Forest. A lot more life from the Midshipmen. 

12:25: Shun White rips off a huge gain, only reinforcing the difference in intensity on both sidelines. If the first two and a half minutes are any indication of how this game will play out, Navy should have a big day. I wasn't expecting such a scenario with the Demon Deacons seeking revenge, but who am I to complain? Navy would love to get the perimeter portion of its ground game going after Eric Kettani went wild in the regular-season meeting between the two teams. 

10:14: Wake Forest's defense rises up to make a stand, but Matt Harmon is strong and true from 40 yards, and Navy grabs a quick lead. A very solid start, and Ken Niumatalolo—who is really amped up on the sidelines—knows how important it is for his team to get the jump on the Deacs. 

9:24: Wake gets its first positive offensive play of the day. Let's see if this continues, or if that 14-yard run by Kevin Harris proves to be an aberration. 

8:52: Harris for 10 more yards. Wake is going to the left side of its offensive line. A pattern emerging. 

8:28: Wake goes to the well again, as any team should when it's having tremendous success with a given play. The right side of Navy's defensive front finally solved the puzzle. 

7:51: As much as I'm in Navy's corner, this play has to be reviewed (and the ESPN production truck needs to show a replay, for goodness sake!). Just before Navy attempts a PAT, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, who probably expected a fumble return to go to the booth and didn't feel he'd need to intervene, is forced to call a timeout to get his review. 
7:51 (after the commercial break): We finally get a look at the play, and it stands. A tremendous strip-scoop-score by Navy's defense, and the man who takes the ball into the end zone is none other than Rashawn King, who lost his father, Drexel, just before the Army-Navy game. How poetically and beautifully appropriate. Wyatt Middleton was the man who stripped the ball from Wake's Alphonso Smith in rather spectacular fashion. Needless to say, Navy couldn't have hoped for a better start: 10-0 for the Men of Ken.

4:57: Navy's secondary is locking down Wake's receivers. Deacon quarterback Riley Skinner has no one to throw to downfield. The Buddy (Green) System is working to perfection once again, and Wake's three-week break has clearly not produced a better, more retooled offense. It's looking a lot like a repeat of late September in the Carolinas, much to the satisfaction of Navy partisans who are dominating the RFK Stadium crowd. 
3:21: Navy having success with pitch plays today. That's probably how the Midshipmen were going to have to move the ball. Kettani, the fullback, carried the rock 19 times for 175 yards against Wake a few months ago, with no one else on the Navy roster cracking 50 yards of rushing. Today, the perimeter needed to be Navy's friend, and that's exactly what's happened. The virtually perfect scenario continues to unfold in D.C.

1:42: Receiver Tyree Barnes drops a very catchable ball at the Wake 32. Will that come back to haunt the Midshipmen? 
1:30: Nope. Another first down.

End of first quarter score: Navy 10, Wake Forest 0. 
Start of second quarter:
Okay, this is exactly one of those situations which, in the regular season, would demand a punt, but which—in a bowl game and, moreover, a bowl-game rematch—demands going for it. A fourth-and-3 from the Wake 38.

14:00: Niumatalolo wisely goes for it, and Shun White moves the sticks with good body lean and leverage. Great coaching, great on-field skill, great Navy football all around. 

12:32: Matt Harmon and his right leg are definitely in the swing of things! Harmon nails a 47-yarder to extend the Navy lead to 13-0. The offense has been okay, but it's the defense and special teams that have particularly excelled so far in the former home of the Washington Redskins. As long as Wake fails to find a spark, a home-run kind of play that could turn around the proceedings in a flash, Navy's in really good shape. The Deacs are already in a situation where their margin for error is alarmingly minimal. 

11:41: Wow. Two offside penalties from Navy's defense could enable Wake to gain confidence. 

11:21: There's your confidence. Kevin Harris rumbles for 28 yards. 

10:30: Back to normal for Navy's front seven, as two Wake runs gain absolutely nothing. 

9:53: Skinner still finding no one open, but he at least scrambles to the Navy 33 to give Wake's healed kicker, Sam Swank, a chance at a field goal. 

9:12: Swank didn't get all of that 50-yard boot, but in looking at the replay, he had enough distance. Fortunately for Navy, the ball bounced off the left upright and to the side, no good. In real time, I thought that the pigskin hit the intersection of the upright and the crossbar, but the ball hit the upright about three yards above the crossbar. At any rate, it's still 13-0 for Navy. 

8:15: Whoa! That has to be a face mask, a horse collar, or both. (Would have been nice, ESPN production truck, to have seen a replay. Poor production effort from this ESPN crew, not a good start to Capital One Bowl Week(s). 
7:51: White gets the first down. Navy's offense not ringing up huge numbers or hitting long touchdown plays, but the Mids are winning field position and possessing the ball. With Wake's offense in disrepair, shortening the game and lengthening the field should be more than enough to keep the Deacons down.

5:39: Kaipo throws a beautiful ball to Barnes, who makes the catch this time for a gain of 26 and a first down at the Wake 29. 

5:39, during the break: Why are they reviewing this play without need of a timeout/coach's challenge? The Rashawn King fumble return merited such scrutiny, but not this play. Barnes caught the ball without question. Bizarre that they would review an obvious catch, but not the more momentous fumble… 

4:24: Oh, Kaipo. Navy's quarterback seemed to go through the motions there, automatically and mechanically forcing a ball that Wake's stud cornerback, Alphonso Smith, picks off at the Deacon 2. Wake not in good field position, but that doesn't matter much when a scoring chance goes by the boards. A 16-0 lead, at the very least, would have forced Wake to convert two two-point conversions just to tie (or come up with three scores to take an outright lead instead of two).  

3:36: Could Rashawn King have his second TD of the day? This time, they go right to the booth, and this time, there's definitely no fumble. 

2:52: There's Wake's only successful first-half play again: Harris for more than 20 yards. Power running is the only thing that's working on occasion for the Deacs. 

1:49: Wake tries a change-of-pace run with the shifty Josh Adams, and Navy's all over it, forcing a five-yard loss. Again, Wake has only one reliable play in its arsenal. 

1:39: And just as I say that, Wake hits its first downfield pass play of the day, as Skinner hits receiver D.J. Boldin for 30 on a third-and-15 snap. With the ball at the Navy 29, the Midshipmen need to keep the Deacs out of the end zone. If Wake goes to the locker room down by only six in a first half that Navy has completely dominated, the Deacons will have to feel sky-high. 

1:12: Wow. A holding penalty by Wake wipes out a touchdown pass from Skinner to Boldin. Huge, huge turn of events.  

1:12: I love this timeout by Navy. Niumatalolo senses a lag in Navy's defense, so he calls timeout to interrupt Wake's momentum and give his team a rest. More coaches need to call defensive timeouts when they notice a decline in performance. This is why Navy is in such good hands under Paul Johnson's successor. The man knows how to manage and manipulate a game. Niumatalolo's sideline acumen is considerable. 

1:05: So much for rest and rejuvenation. Navy's secondary, once so airtight, is continuing to lose track of Boldin, Wake's one dependable downfield threat. Skinner finds his trusty target for 21 yards on first-and-20, giving the Deacs a first-and-goal at the Navy 5. 

0:36: Touchdown? I'm not so sure. Oh, on second look (good stuff from the ESPN production truck on this occasion… gotta hand out props when they're appropriate), Adams clearly got in because a Navy defender was on the ground. Adams's knees never did touch the ground. What a stomach punch for the Midshipmen. They walked all over Wake for 28 minutes, but with one late 98-yard drive, it's just a 13-7 ballgame. This team's toughness is going to be sorely tested in the second half. 
Halftime score: Navy 13, Wake Forest 7.

11 minutes left, third quarter: Navy moves the ball a little, but no big dagger, and Wake's defense gets another stop. Unlike the first half, when the Midshipmen were dominating and the Deacons were showing absolutely no signs of life, it's not really a victory to merely keep the ball away from Wake. Navy now needs points, and the first possession of the second half didn't deliver as much. 
7:25: Uh-oh. Skinner finds Harris out of the backfield for a huge gain, and now Wake is right back in scoring position. Navy needs to turn this thing around quickly. 
5:50: No turnaround for Buddy Green's defense. Adams slams into the end zone a on a third-and-3 play, and sure enough, Wake leads 14-13. For 28 minutes, the Deacons were dead, but once they found a spark (the long Skinner-to-Boldin pass play on third and a mile), they got off the deck. Kaipo's interception at the Wake Forest 2 has turned out to be a monumental mistake. Oh, well. It's just a one-point game, and with more than 20 minutes of football still to be played, Navy just has to start fresh and rededicate itself to excellence.

4:13: Kaipo converts a third-and-1. A nice start on this very crucial drive for Navy, but once more, this is no longer a field position game. It's now a scoring game, where points matter far more than real estate. Wake woke up, so it's "all hands on deck" for the Men of Ken. Denting the scoreboard is the only option right now. 

2:15: Go for it, Ken. It's a bowl game, it's a rematch, you have nothing to lose. Fourth and four at midfield. 

1:41: A nicely-executed punt to the Wake 6 by Army game hero Kyle Delahooke. Still, after Wake's 98-yard drive late in the first half, pinning the Deacons deep doesn't mean as much… unless Navy can produce a three-and-out and create a good scoring opportunity for Kaipo's crew. 
0:54: A big, fat, whopping third-and-1 coming up here. Navy has to rise up and get a stop at this point in time.

0:20: YES! Navy loads the box, gangs up, and stuffs Harris for no gain. Just the play Buddy Green's group needed to turn the tide in a game that's gotten away from the Midshipmen. A needed shot in the arm as the third quarter comes to a close. 
End of third quarter score: Wake Forest 14, Navy 13.  
Start of fourth quarter: THERE'S THE BIG PLAY! Kaipo busts loose for 35 yards to the Wake 15! Just what the football doctor ordered.

13:51: Kettani with one of his better runs of the day, as the fullback powers for nine to the Wake 4. First and goal for Navy. Time to pound the ball into the end zone. 
13:19: Wow, why throw when your ground game is working so well? 
12:30: Wake's defense looked disorganized, and it showed. Kaipo fakes the fullback handoff and keeps it for six points. Navy going for two. 
12:30: The conversion fails, as another pass play went nowhere. Still, Navy not only takes the lead, but does so with six points instead of three. Wake controlled the third quarter, so it was imperative for the Midshipmen to retake momentum at the beginning of the fourth stanza. (Mini-)mission accomplished. Now, it's time to find a forceful finishing kick and not allow Wake to breathe again.

11:09: Navy reacted well to that flanker screen, but Midshipmen defenders didn't get off their blocks well enough. The instincts were good, but the athleticism wasn't quite there. Boldin moves the sticks again for the Deacs. 
10:00: Better open-field tackling there from Navy. Wake now facing a third-and-7 at its own 45. 
9:17: This has been a recurring theme ever since the end of the first half: Navy has great coverage for the first few seconds of a play, but a Skinner scramble causes the Navy secondary to lose track of a receiver. Skinner hits Chip Brinkman for 45 to the Navy 10. The corners and safeties have to stay with their man.

8:18: Two solid plays against the run force a third and goal just inside the 10. One more play, boys. 
7:52: Good grief! In a red-zone situation, a Wake receiver gets behind the last line of Navy's defense. Tight end Ben Wooster slips to the back of the end zone, and scores a relatively easy touchdown to give Wake a 20-19 lead.

7:52: Repeat, wash, rinse. Wake converts a two-point try in similar fashion, gaining a 22-19 lead in the process. Considering the way Navy defended the pass in this game's first 28 minutes, a crisis of confidence has clearly emerged in the white-shirted secondary. Credit Skinner—a senior quarterback who has had a frankly forgettable season—for getting off the deck today, but Navy has experienced the kinds of breakdowns that shouldn't happen… at least not more than once or twice. It's okay to get beat a few times—nobody's perfect—but the seemingly commonplace nature of these pass plays is what has to be distressing to Navy fans. 
7:44: Oh, White had a monster return, and it comes back. 
7:32: Kaipo with a keeper for a first down. That's probably Navy's best bet at this point. Niumatalolo might want to think about a wrinkle involving an end-around or something else with a misdirection flavor.  
6:16: Wake contains a pitch play. Kaipo needs to produce here on third down. 
5:50: Ugh. Wake, so flat and unfocused at the start of this game, is now feeling full of itself. The Deacons are dancing with delight and enjoying the game in much the same way that Navy did for the first 28 minutes of action. This is now an uphill battle for the Men of Ken. It's the first time all afternoon that I've felt that Navy's in real trouble. The third quarter offered multiple moments of concern and worry, but now, the outlook is genuinely bleak. 
4:10: Another monster third-and-1, coming up after Navy's first timeout. If Wake converts, Navy will have to stop the Deacons on the following set of downs in order to stay alive.  
3:58: The Buddy System does the job again, stopping Wake well short of the first down. Niumatalolo wanted a timeout, but the officials didn't see him. That's a break for Navy. 
3:25: Okay, the offense gets one more shot at victory or, with a field goal, overtime. Last-chance gulch for the Men of Ken. All credit to Navy's defense for standing tall in short-yardage situations. The pass, surprisingly yet undeniably, proved to be the pigskin puzzle the Midshipmen couldn't solve today.

2:50: That pitch play has been snuffed out by Wake. Navy has to use creative plays at this point. Basic stuff isn't working  

1:51: Kaipo made a gallant effort, but Wake stops him just short of the marker. A holy-roller-type fumble occurs, and Wake snags it. What a shame. Nevertheless, Navy beat Wake Forest earlier in the season. Hats off to the Deacons for fighting instead of folding. As for the Men of Ken, a terrifically successful 2008 campaign comes to an end. The ship is steady in Annapolis, amidst college football's stormy seas. No one plays service academy football as well as Navy does. A parade of bowl games and winning seasons did not get interrupted in the first year after the departure of Paul Johnson. Navy fans have to be immensely proud of this ballclub. Good luck to Eric Kettani in January's Senior Bowl, and best wishes to these fine young men when they serve America in a number of different ways, all of them meaningful. 
0:54: Wake tacks on a late touchdown for cosmetic purposes.  
0:46: Wow! Huge kickoff return! If Niumatalolo is smart, he'll try a long field goal right away. 
0:38: Well, he waited one play, but Ken is now making the right move. A very wise decision from a superb coach.  
0:33: The kick misses from 48 yards, but it's still a brilliant move that most coaches fail to make. Okay, finally time to ride into the sunset after another successful year of Navy football. It's been a great run with a great group of kids… and a terrific coaching staff that worked its butt off. 
Final score: Wake Forest 29, Navy 19. 

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