Gee Gee Greene (Jeff Blake- US PRESSWIRE)
It’s that time of the year. With only a few days remaining in 2011, it may be easy to look forward to 2012, but let’s not forget to reflect on the year that was. And even though Navy went 5-7 on the gridiron, there were still plenty of highlights and memorable moments from September through December. Here are ten to toast before looking ahead.
Number Ten: Teich fires it up
It was not a fun second quarter for Navy fans a few weeks ago. Having watched Navy storm out to a 14-0 lead on Army, the chants from Midshipmen in FedEx field became ominously quiet after the Black Knights evened the game at 14 by halftime. That Army took the momentum into the half was more than apparent, but so was the Midshipmen response coming out of the break. Turning to his best offensive player and emotional leader, Ken Niumatalolo’s decision to insert Alexander Teich at kick-returner didn’t just yield a 47-yard return, it proved a defining factor in regaining momentum that would carry Navy through the second half of the 27-21 win.
Number Nine: Aiken silences Williams-Brice
This one comes on a personal note. I’ve been in some quiet press boxes in my life, but never before have I been in one where it turned dead silent. That is, turned dead silent before dozens of writers highlighted paragraphs of what they’d just written and deleted it. But that’s exactly what happened when, on a desperation fourth-and-fifteen throw, Kriss Proctor found Matt Aiken for a leaping 16-yard catch against South Carolina in week four. And while Navy’s drive to beat the Gamecocks would falter, for a brief moment that Saturday night it looked like destiny was smiling on the Mids.
Number Eight: Teague’s record-setter
Before the struggles with blocked kicks and missed PATs that would haunt him midway through the season, Navy kicker Jon Teague showed just why he’s considered to have one of the strongest legs in Navy football history. Up 16-7 against Delaware in the opener, Teague’s 54-yard bullet with 25 seconds remaining in the half gave the Mids the breathing room they needed to take into the half before finishing the game in a 40-17 route. Oh yea, and it also set a school record.
Number Seven: Troy’s loss is Navy’s gain (Gaines, that is)
There were a lot of memorable moments on Senior Day during Navy’s 42-14 beatdown of Sun Belt member Troy. Quarterback Kriss Proctor and slotback Aaron Santiago both had great games coming back from injury, and the Midshipmen defense was nearly flawless in the first half. Momentum certainly played a role in helping Navy get on top early, and thanks to freshman cornerback Parrish Gaines’ forced fumble of Shawn Southward on Troy’s second possession, helped the Mids take a commanding 14-0 lead. It also proved the worth of one of Navy’s pleasant surprises this season, and perhaps provided a preview for what Navy fans will see in the future.
Number Six: Howell goes streaking
Not even two minutes into a week two game at Western Kentucky, slotback John Howell proved that 40-yard-dash times are overrated. Taking an option pitch from Proctor, the 5-foot-8 junior streaked unopposed to the endzone to give Navy an early 7-0 lead. I love this play for a couple of reasons. First, because the execution was flawless on Navy’s part. From Proctor’s read to his quick pitch, to Bo Snelson laying a draw-it-up cut block on the safety, it was option football at its finest. But you have to love Howell’s speed, which the Mids will surely call on in 2012.
Number Five: Turning the tide on the Falcons
I’m not sure how many times I said to myself “this is the play of the game” during Navy’s devastating overtime loss to Air Force, but I definitely remember saying it when Navy’s defense lined up against the Falcons for a third-and-three play from the Navy 49-yard line with just under eight minutes to go in the game. Jared Marks’ subsequent stop of Tim Jefferson gave Navy hope to come back from a 28-17 deficit, hope Kriss Proctor and the offense soon capitalized on by marching 73-yards down the field for a field goal that would set the stage for an improbable comeback. For a defense which couldn’t have stopped Air Force’s offense even with a man advantage in the first half, the fourth-quarter stop made all the difference.
Number Four: Spurrier’s Arrogance
The game was over. That, at least, was what was going through the minds of the majority of the 78,000+ fans in Columbia, South Carolina. But after having failed to so much as slow down then-Heisman trophy candidate Marcus Lattimore, Navy’s defense came up big by stuffing the back for a one yard loss on a fourth-and-two play from the Navy five-yard line. Wes Henderson’s tackle for a loss sent grumbles through the press box, but Navy was ultimately unable to capitalize on a subsequent drive to tie or win the game.
Number Three: Sperry Prevents the touchdown
Looking back on Navy’s 24-17 upset at SMU, David Sperry’s second-quarter interception of Mustang quarterback J.J. McDermott in the Navy endzone may have proved the difference. Without the pick SMU likely scores a touchdown to cut Navy’s first-half lead, and considering that lead only ended up being a 10-3 lead at the break, one could argue the Mids don’t beat the Mustangs had Sperry not been in the right place at the right time.
Number Two: Turner’s recovery
Gee Gee Green made an unbelievable one-handed catch falling down into the endzone in double coverage. Kriss Proctor made the right read to find Teich on the fullback option for the two-point conversion. Neither is possible, however, without Brandon Turner’s onside kick recovery with Navy down 28-20 against Air Force. I know, I know. Navy would go on to lose the game. But who among us thought the Mids would even have a chance after witnessing the first half of the game? Teague’s onside kick was picture perfect on the conversion – so perfect, you might say, it left Air Force’s hands team motionless.
Number One: Warrick in the backfield
You’ve heard it times and time again from players, coaches, and fans; losing to Army is unacceptable. Yet in the chilly Washington D.C. evening on December 10th, a loss to Army was something Navy’s seniors and players might have had to accept. But Navy inside linebacker Matt Warrick proved the difference with his late-game heroics, slicing through the Army backfield on a fourth-and-seven play with 4:31 left to play. Drilling Army quarterback Trent Steelman in the backfield, Warrick’s stop an Army touchdown bid, preserving a 27-21 Navy lead and giving the ball over to Navy’s offense to finish off the game and finish the season on a winning note.
Adam Nettina welcomes reader comments, suggestions, and questions. Think he missed the mark with these picks? Let him know at AdamNettina – at – gmail.com