Navy kicker Moehring remains confident despite early struggles

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

At the tail end of every Navy practice, head coach Ken Niumatalolo blows his whistle and yells “field goal.”

It is the final period of practice and finds placekicker Bennett Moehring attempting about a dozen field goals from various angles and distances. Moehring is very much like a machine during the drill, booming field goal after field goal through the uprights.

Regular visitors to Navy practice this season have marveled at how Moehring almost never misses.

That is why it has been so mind-boggling to see Moehring struggle during games to date. The returning starter missed his first two field goal attempts of the season – a 29-yarder at Florida Atlantic and a 24-yarder versus Cincinnati. Things did not get any better against Tulsa as Moehring had a 26-yarder blocked.

Finally, on the fourth try of the young campaign, Moehring made a 24-yard field goal that snapped a 14-14 tie and put Navy ahead of Tulsa to stay.

Niumatalolo reiterated this week that he still has complete confidence in Moehring, who has been perfect 19-for-19 on extra points through four games.

“Bennett has kicked very well in practice. He just needs to translate that consistency into games,” Niumatalolo told the audience at the Navy football luncheon on Tuesday.

For his part, Moehring makes no excuses. It appeared the field goal at Florida Atlantic was good, but it was so high above the upright that officials had difficulty determining whether it was on target.

“There’s been a little bad luck here and there, but it’s more just not trusting myself out on the field,” Moehring said. “I come out here to practice and I do it every day. It’s just a matter of having confidence and going out there during the games and doing what I know I can do.”

A couple of Navy’s field goal attempts so far have been so short as to create an odd angle. Both the Cincinnati and Tulsa tries were about the same distance as an extra point, but taken from the left hash mark. Moehring said that should not matter and was particularly displeased with the Cincy miss.

“I just lost focus. I went out there and took a 24-yarder for granted and I can’t do that,” he said. “Every kick has to be approached the same. I have to go through my progression, focus on my cues and ultimately trust my technique.”

It seemed as though Navy purposely took a delay of game penalty in order to back up five yards and give Moehring a better angle. That was not the case at all as Moehring admitted he was responsible for the delay of game.

“That was my fault. I wasn’t watching the play clock,” he said.

It ultimately did not matter as Tulsa cornerback Reggie Robinson came flying off the edge to smother the football as soon as it came off Moehring’s foot. Niumatalolo said this week the block was the result of a slow get-off time and that Robinson was not supposed to be blocked.

“We don’t block that player. We just try to lengthen our edge. We have a certain get-off time and if we hit that he can’t get there,” Niumatalolo said. “We were just slow on the kick. I think Bennett was being sure on accuracy and just took too much time.”

Moehring acknowledged the get-off time might have been a split-second slow, but also credited Robinson for being explosive and turning the corner in a real hurry.

“Yeah, it was definitely a little slow. After the miss against Cincinnati it was in my head a little bit. I wanted to make sure the snap was good and the hold was good before I kicked,” he said. “Again, it goes back to trusting my snapper, trusting my holder and trusting my technique. We’ll get it fixed.”

Moehring said the ideal time for the total process is 1.3 seconds. Any field goal attempt completed in that time or less should not be blocked. Despite the early struggles, Moehring remains confident in the whole operation, which includes long snapper Ronnie Querry and holder Randy Beggs.

“I’m not rattled. I trust myself and have all the confidence in the world in Ronnie and Randy,” he said. “We’re going to get the job done. It’s only a matter of time before I get on a hot streak.”

JARREN GOES HOME: Barbara Niumatalolo, the first lady of Navy football, announced via Facebook on Wednesday night that Jarren Jasper was scheduled to be discharged from Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. on Thursday.

Jarren has been hospitalized at that facility since undergoing a surgical procedure in early August. The 14-year-old freshman at Broadneck High has been awaiting a heart transplant ever since.

Donna Jasper has been trained on how to care for her son with regard to the special device that is commonly implanted in patients that have suffered catastrophic heart failure. Jarren Jasper has a Left Ventricular Assist Device that mimics the heart in pumping blood to the body.

Jarren’s chances of being able to go home increased when he had a breathing tube removed last week. He has been eating, exercising and building strength ever since in order to convince doctors to move ahead with the discharge.

Barbara Niumatalolo noted the youngster absolutely cannot be around anyone who is sick or has been around another person with an illness. Jarren also cannot come into contact with individuals without a current flu shot.

Ken Niumatalolo spoke after practice this week about how offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper has handled coaching Navy football while simultaneously dealing with his youngest child’s serious medical condition.

“I don’t know how Ivin has done it. He’ll leave here and go straight to the hospital. He’s been doing that for almost two months,” Coach Niumatalolo said. “Actually, I do know how he’s doing it – because of the love for his son. Ivin has been an inspiration, but more so his son has. Jarren is a young man who is battling this and been tough through all of this. Jarren and his parents, Ivin and Donna, have been an inspiration for all of us.”

CARRYING THE LOAD: Quarterback Zach Abey has been a real workhorse for the Navy offense, carrying the football 117 times through four games. That is an average of almost 30 carries per game, which is extremely high even by Navy standards.

Starting quarterback Will Worth averaged 22 attempts last season while Keenan Reynolds averaged 20 in 2015 and just shy of 23 in 2014. In fact, the highest number of carries by a Nay quarterback during the current triple-option era is 315 over 13 games by Ricky Dobbs in 2009. That works out to an average of just over 24 totes per game.

Abey got a carer-high 36 carries in the Tulsa game, getting hit by one or more defenders on every one. The Archbishop Spalding product also got hit on most of Navy’s 14 pitchouts and four pass plays. Niumatalolo was asked during Tuesday’s luncheon if he is concerned about the cumulative effect of the quarterback absorbing so many blows.

“It’s always a concern. That being said, it’s who we are as a program. Our quarterback has the football on every play,” Niumatalolo said. “Keenan took a lot of shots – so did Will Worth and Ricky Dobbs.”

Niumatalolo said that is why Abey and the other quarterbacks wear a green jersey during practice, indicating they are off-limits to contact.

“We do a lot of other things to protect the quarterback. We basically put a bubble around him during spring and summer camps,” Niumatalolo said. “Zach knew what he signed up for when he came here.”

Abey is very strong and powerfully built, carrying 212 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. The Pasadena resident runs like a fullback, often dishing out more punishment than he receives.

Navy’s rugged quarterback certainly did not seem that worse for wear as he conducted a post-game interview following the Tulsa game, smiling easily and appearing surprisingly fresh.

Abey is on pace to carry the ball 350 times over the course of the 12-game regular season and could exceed 400 if Navy reaches the American Athletic Conference championship game and goes to a bowl.

Meanwhile, Jasper has full confidence in backup Garret Lewis if, heaven forbid, something should happen to Abey. Lewis, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior, still has not see any varsity action.

“Garret is ready. We can win with Garret,” Jasper said. “Garret has a chip on his shoulder. He feels he’s the better quarterback. He’s a competitor and wants to be the starter. He challenges Zach in everything they do. I feel really confident that if we put Garret out there he would give us everything he can.”

There was one point during spring practice when Jasper had Lewis slightly ahead of Abey. However, the Alabama native suffered a serious injury late in camp and had to undergo surgery. The Sipsey Valley High graduate (Buhl, Alabama) has been wearing a knee brace all season.

“Garret isn’t all that fleet of foot to begin with so the brace doesn’t really look any different,” Jasper said with a chuckle. “Garret is a very capable football player. He’s full go. He’s just wearing the brace as a precaution.”

INJURY REPORT: Starting slotback Darryl Bonner participated fully in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and is listed as probable for Saturday’s showdown with service academy rival Air Force.

Bonner missed the Cincinnati and Tulsa game after suffering a high ankle sprain versus Tulane. Nicknamed “Big Play” Bonner by teammates and coaches, the senior captain is one of Navy’s most dangerous receivers.

“Darryl practiced today and practiced well. That was really, really encouraging,” Niumatalolo said. “From what we saw today, I definitely think he’ll be able to play.”

Bonner’s return bolsters a slotback rotation that lost Tre Walker to a season-ending knee injury. It was unclear whether he or classmate Josh Brown would start on Saturday.

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