SAN FRANCISCO - Navy fullback Kyle Eckel has been a cornerstone of the team's offensive resurgence under coach Paul Johnson, but he fell short yesterday in several statistical quests.
Eckel gained 85 yards on 24 tough carries in the Emerald Bowl to complete his career with 2,906 yards and finished fourth on the school's career list.
"We all contributed every game this season," said Eckel, sloughing off the numbers. "Aaron [Polanco] can get 100 yards, Frank [Divis]. It's a team game and we won. That's what matters."
Eckel will return to San Francisco Jan. 15 to play in the East-West Shrine Game and may be the only current Midshipman with extensive football in his future. He has drawn attention from NFL scouts and may wind up in the pros eventually.
Kelley is huge on defense
Defensive stalwart Vaughn Kelley said winning the defensive MVP honor "means I did something right in the game. I can't even speak on it. I don't think it's hit me yet."
A hit by the loquacious Kelley knocked New Mexico star running back DonTrell Moore out of the game early and his tackle at the 1 on D.D. Cox ended the Lobos' final scoring threat.
Beforehand, Kelley had said that all he knew about New Mexico was that Lobo was "Spanish for wolf and we don't intend to be Little Red Riding Hood."
Fans earn stripes
The attendance of 30,563 set an Emerald Bowl record with approximately two-thirds of the crowd rooting for the Midshipmen.
Navy and the bowl sold an estimated 20,000 tickets to fans of the Midshipmen, who were playing on the West Coast for the first time since 1997.
The Midshipmen are 5-5-1 all time in bowl games.
After absorbing an embarrassing loss at Tulane, Navy outscored its final three opponents 130-53. ... Josh Smith finished as only the second player in school history to lead the team in tackles three straight years. The first was Andy Ponseigo in 1981-1983. Smith had 119 stops this season. ... Polanco, who will head to flight school next summer, finished the season with 16 rushing touchdowns, the most in the nation by a quarterback this year. ... New Mexico had a streak of 11 straight wins when scoring first before yesterday.