The Navy quarterback, already reeling from an earlier interception, had just been stopped on a fourth-and-goal attempt at the one-yard line by Rutgers linebacker Steve Beauharnais. It marked the second straight week Proctor was shut down at the goal line on fourth down by an opposing team, and painted a perfect picture of the red zone struggles that have plagued the Navy offense amidst its worse losing streak since 2002.
It would be easy for Proctor to get caught up wondering “what if” had he punched the ball in against Rutgers. And nobody would blame him for thinking twice about what he and the offense could have done had he not been flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty three weeks ago in a devastating overtime loss to Air Force. But the senior quarterback from Big Bear City, California isn’t letting himself dwell on the hypothetical.
“There have been a lot of ‘woulda, coulda, shouldas’ the last four weeks…a lot,” Proctor said after practice on Monday. “There are so many different plays you can look at and say, ‘if we did this, we would have won the game.’ But we can’t do that.”
“We just have to slim those things that ‘could have’ possibly won us the game and turn those into ‘we won the game because we did that,’” Proctor added.
His voice is steady and reflects confidence, and his mood upbeat after watching film and understanding his mistakes. As for that particular one, Proctor said he made the wrong check at the line, and failed to read Beauharnais correctly. But in spite of the mistake, and notwithstanding the team’s four straight losses, Proctor remains in command of the Navy offense. That offense may have been held to a season-low 162 rushing yards in a 21-20 loss to Rutgers, but its players remain focused and determined to right the ship of what some have proclaimed a sinking season.
Case in point, senior slotback Mike Stukel, who knows dwelling on what might have been can only hinder with how the Mids enter Saturday’s contest with East Carolina (2-4, 2-1). Stukel, who dropped a key third quarter pass that would have put Navy up 24-7 against Rutgers, said it wasn’t easy to move on from the critical drop, but after two days of reflection, he has regained his confidence and is intent to redeem himself.
“After the game it hurt pretty bad because I saw it could have made a difference in the game,” said the senior, who has seen increased duty this year with the injury to starter Aaron Santiago. “Anytime something like that happens it sucks but I’ll get over it. I’m already over it now.”
“The coaches said they have plenty of confidence in me,” he continued. “It happens to the best of us, and (the coaches) are going to keep having confidence in me to keep making plays. And I will make some plays, and have confidence in my abilities.”
For their part, Navy’s offensive players aren’t pointing fingers at themselves or their defensive teammates. Both Proctor and Stukel reiterated that no Navy player has been immune to even game-defining mistakes over the month of October, and both went on to stress that team unity remains high.
“We’re boosting each others’ confidence,” Proctor said. “We can’t point fingers, especially if somebody did something wrong. We just have to come closer together and understand that we need each other.”
The quarterback, who leads Navy with 563 rushing yards this season, said that if anything, Navy’s adversity-filled month is helping to bring the team closer. “It’s a team game, and it’s not always one person’s fault. I think we become close because of those things, and we just need to keep each other up.”
Stukel echoed Proctor. While he said this particular senior class has always been extremely close, the past four weeks have helped bring them together on a new level.
“I think what really kind of brings you closer is when you go through adversity and you go through a couple losses like we have,” Stukel said. “We’re really close and we have confidence in one another. Defense and offense – and it’s not just me saying this – but we’ve got a great football team. I think the players still realize that, and we’re not getting down on ourselves.”
With no “gimme” games left on the schedule, and with dates looming against what could be ranked teams in Notre Dame and Southern Methodist, Stukel knows the hill in front of the offense is steep. But he isn’t letting the odds get him and his teammates down, and vows that this year’s senior class won’t go down without a fight.
“We have a tradition of winning in the past decade. We’re not going to be the class to take losing as easy as it was in the past.”
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