"This is probably one of the hardest losses I've ever been associated with," said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. "There's no consolation in moving the ball. You have to score. You have to take care of the football. We had a ton of opportunities."
After two quarters of offensive struggle, Maryland broke through with a fourth quarter drive and field goal to go up 17-14 with just less than eight minutes to play. Navy caught a huge break when, on third and ten, Maryland got called for a facemask on Dobbs to keep the drive alive. Gee Gee Greene then went 16 yards on an option pitch and the Midshipmen melted the clock with their typical effectiveness. A Navy false start penalty with 1:30 left on third and goal at the three, turned into third and goal at the eight. Dobbs took an option run to the one yard line, setting up the Terrapin goal line stand.
Despite the wide advantage on the stat sheet, Navy's loss comes down to one frightening fact: Five red zone possessions – no points.
"We left 31 points on the field," Niumatalolo said. "If we take care of the football, it's a different ball game. But you have to give Maryland's defense credit."
Navy had 82 offensive plays to Maryland's 39, and they had nearly 40 minutes of possession time. They ran for 412 yards overall to the Terps' 261, and even outdid Maryland in the air by a 73-11 edge. But none of it matters, thanks to the turnovers and the final score.
"They won the turnover battle," Niumatalolo said. "But I have faith in Ricky that he'll bounce back. He's won a ton of games for us. We all make mistakes."
Using a significant size advantage up front, Maryland capitalized on their speedy backfield for two quick touchdowns in the first quarter on their opening two possessions. While Navy responded with an early second quarter Andre Byrd touchdown to halve the lead, a Dobbs fumble inside the Maryland 5-yard line and a missed Joe Buckley 32-yard field goal kept the Midshipmen at bay.
While practicing without a football no doubt helped the Terps prepare for the vaunted triple option Midshipmen attack, it was Maryland's offensive line and backfield speed that tore off big chunks of yardage at key stretches early on. Even without a passing yard in the first half, Maryland rolled up 177 yards on the ground en route to a 14-7 lead. Navy had a chance at a possible field goal as the half ended, but Dobbs cut up field on a rollout and was stopped short of the goal line as time expired. Dobbs took the blame for the questionable clock management.
"I just have to stay focused," Dobbs said, referring to the use of the clock at the end of the half. "Instinct took over and I became unaware (of the clock). I lost focus."
Navy took the opening kickoff of the second half and, largely helped by a Vince Murray 27-yard dive play run, drove to the goal line for a chance to tie the game. Dobbs ran to his left, was hit as he lunged toward the goal line, and lost the ball. Despite the seeming momentum shift, the Midshipmen defense held Maryland after one first down and then drove 76 yards in seven plays to tie the score on a Dobbs one-yard lunge. The drive was keyed by a 53-yard reverse to Greg Jones, and sprung with a beautiful block by wide receiver Brandon Turner.
But the story of the game was red zone turnovers and missed opportunities.
"We just had trouble finishing," Dobbs said. "But this is a test of our character and I guarantee you this Navy football team will bounce back."
Maryland got the start they needed early in the game, pounding out an 8-play, 59 yard opening drive that saw no pass attempts. Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett did most of the damage, although on the game's first play from scrimmage, Terps quarterback Jamarr Robinson eluded a strong Navy rush on a dropback, and turned a potential 10-yard loss into a 4-yard gain. Maryland capped the drive on a five-yard touchdown by Scott.
Navy responded with a 52-yard drive, but stalled when Buckley 32-yard field goal bounced off the right upright. Meggett hit for a 67-yard run on the first play following the missed field goal, and Maryland went up 14-0 five plays later on a Meggett 3-yard run.
Navy then went 64 yards in nine plays and got on the scoreboard with an Andre Byrd 10-yard touchdown. On the previous play, Byrd scampered 14 yards to set up the score.
Maryland drove to the Navy 19 on three plays, but Robinson misfired over the middle into the hands of Navy safety Emmett Merchant, who returned the interception 27 yards, and led to the first of the two goal line Dobbs fumbles.
The Navy defense helped them get back into the game, holding Maryland to 43 yards of total offense in the second quarter and 53 yards in the third quarter, aided by an ultraconservative Maryland offense. Wyatt Middleton led the resurgent defense after the difficult first quarter. He led the Midshipmen with 12 tackles, including 8 solo.
Middleton, Nuimatalolo, and Dobbs agreed that this loss doesn't ruin a potentially special season.
"We still have high expectations," Middleton said. "This is a tough loss but we have to keep looking forward…and get ready for Georgia Southern."
"This is a learning experience for us," Dobbs said. "This lets us know what we are capable of and what we have to work on."
"We have to bounce back physically and mentally," Nuimatalolo said. "We've got to find a way to get over it with the short week and get ready for Georgia Southern. We're going to rally around each other."