Ken Niumatalolo, usually one of the more reserved coaches in college football, went off script in the Navy football team’s 42-14 thrashing of South Alabama on Saturday night.
Almost midway through the third quarter, the Midshipmen set up to punt on fourth-and-6 from their own 40-yard line. But junior punter Pablo Beltran faked the punt and instead threw to sophomore defensive end Will Anthony for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
But officials flagged Navy for an ineligible player downfield. The penalty was initially assessed to junior defensive end Chris Nurthen, but he was in the backfield with Beltran.
Niumatalolo asked for clarification, and later said officials repeatedly changed the identity of the penalized player. Eventually, the coach lost his temper and berated a sideline official, who flagged Niumatalolo for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty before the next play.
“They told me a few different numbers,” he explained. “They said, ‘That guy,’ and I said, ‘Wait, he’s eligible.’ They gave me another guy. Finally, they said, ‘Well, we looked up in the replay box, and it was the guy that was downfield.’ But they gave me four different numbers, and they couldn’t give me a correct answer. But I’ve got to control myself more. My wife tells me every game, and my kids text me, ‘Don’t get mad at the officials.’ I just lost control.”
Even in the press box atop Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, confusion abounded. Navy officials thought the penalty was assessed to Nurthen, but changed it to junior safety George Jamison. Then it was changed to junior linebacker Anthony Lewis. In the official record, a player is not identified.
The unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty left Niumatalolo feeling guilty for having criticized junior linebacker Chris Johnson for a 15-yard late-hit penalty in the second quarter that contributed to a Jaguars touchdown.
“I told Chris Johnson — he’s one of our smartest football players — how he could he make such a dumb penalty. He and I will do bear crawls outside,” Niumatalolo said. “It was a stupid penalty on my part. Just stupid. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
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