When it was finally over, Navy coach Paul Johnson racked his brain for the adjectives to try and describe what had just happened to his football team. Several times, he simply stopped in mid-sentence, shook his head and scratched his chin.
It was that kind of day for the Mids, a day on which answers were tough to come by and mistakes were plentiful. No. 21 North Carolina State defeated Navy, 65-19, yesterday in front of 29,613 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, thanks in part to five touchdown passes from quarterback Philip Rivers.
The Wolfpack put things away early, scoring three touchdowns in the first four minutes, grabbing a 21-0 lead before Navy had run two offensive plays. The defeat was the Mids' 10th straight loss at home and their 32nd consecutive loss to a Top 25 opponent.
"That was the worst [loss] for me ever," said Johnson, who went 62-10 at Georgia Southern before coming to Navy in December. "It wasn't a lot of fun. I've been on the other end of a few of these games, but not this end."
Fresh off a 38-7 win over Southern Methodist the previous week - Navy's first victory in more than a year - the Mids had plenty of reason to be optimistic against the Wolfpack. But that optimism quickly disappeared, starting with the third play of the game, when Rivers tossed a 64-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Peterson.
On the ensuing kickoff, Navy running back Eric Roberts fumbled and N.C. State's Lamont Reid scooped up the ball and ran it back 30 yards to put the Wolfpack up 14-0.
"Anytime you self-destruct like we did, things are going to be bad," said Mids safety Lenter Thomas.
N.C. State kicked off again, and on Navy's first offensive play, quarterback Craig Candeto pitched the ball behind Roberts on an option. Wolfpack defensive lineman Jerrick Hall recovered the fumble at the Mids' 26 and, five plays later, Rivers found Sterling Hicks in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown.
"Within five minutes of the start of the game we had taken ourselves out of any opportunity we had to win," Johnson said. "We were fighting uphill right from the jump start. We just don't have the type of people right now where we can make five or six mistakes and still win the football game."
Once the Mids calmed down a bit, things went a little better. Navy drove the ball 73 yards on its next possession to score, cutting N.C. State's lead to 21-6. The touchdown came on a 7-yard run by fullback Kyle Eckel.
But special teams once again put Navy behind the eight ball, as N.C. State safety Terrence Holt blocked a John Skaggs punt late in the first quarter. The Wolfpack recovered at Navy's 7-yard line, and Rivers scored on a quarterback keeper two plays later to make it 28-6. The punt block was the 10th blocked kick of Holt's career.
"I think [blocking kicks] is just a strong will and want-to," Holt said. "Going against a left-footed kicker helps me a lot because it's closer to my side."
Holt, however, wasn't done there. In the second half, with N.C. State up 51-12, he blocked another Skaggs punt and this time Craig Moody recovered it in the end zone for the Wolfpack's second special-teams touchdown.
"He just has a want-to," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said of Holt. "We just try to put him in advantageous positions to block kicks. He goes hard in the kicking game because he knows what it can do."
Navy did move the ball at times, and it finished with 243 yards rushing, but other than that, there were not a lot of positives. The Mids lost three fumbles and, on defense, Rivers picked apart Navy's secondary for 309 yards, going 10 for 15.
In the third quarter, Rivers capped off his impressive day with an 88-yard touchdown pass to Peterson, who finished with 152 yards and two scores on just two catches. Gregory Golden led the Wolfpack in rushing with 88 yards and a touchdown.
"Navy didn't give up," Rivers said. "We just had some good hook-ups pretty early. Our guys were able to get open pretty consistently throughout the game."
Navy now has two weeks to regroup before taking on Northwestern Sept. 21 for its homecoming.
"We've got to put this one behind us," said Candeto, who scored on a 4-yard run late in the game for Navy's final points. "Just like last week, we couldn't enjoy things all week just because we won; we had to work. Now we can't dwell on this. We just have to correct things and try to get ready for the next game."
Next for Navy
Site:Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Yesterday: Lost to Texas Christian, 48-24