Navy coach Paul Johnson hoped that simplifying his team's defense and challenging his starting kicker last week would prove the right path to get the Midshipmen back on the winning track.
It worked Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, but for three quarters of the game you would have been hard-pressed to find more than a handful of fans who believed Navy would pull out the 46-43 victory.
Even Johnson acknowledged, "as poorly as we played in the first half, especially in defense, it was hard to stay in the fight."
But Navy, perhaps more than most schools, brings a different kind of player to the battle. If nothing else, the academy teaches poise under pressure and toughness in difficult situations.
Although the Mids' defense is young, with a lot of sophomores and freshmen, they've all been through their plebe summers and know how to see a challenge through.
"I think we understand who we are," Johnson said after the game. "When we were winning nine or 10 games, it was because of hard work. We're not going to blow anyone away. We have to fight and stay in it.
"The big thing to come out of [Saturday] was that our kids didn't quit. They fought from start to finish, and when you do that you will have a chance to win."
The game was a near opposite of the one the Mids lost a week earlier, 34-32, in overtime to Ball State. In that game, backup quarterback Jarod Bryant came off the bench in the second half to lead the Mids. But kicker Matt Harmon, who had been 5-for-5 entering the game, missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt as time ran out in regulation. In overtime, Bryant fumbled a pitch that could have led to a game-winning score.
This time, everything went right.
The struggling defense stopped Duke on two drives in the final quarter. Bryant came off the bench to score the fourth-quarter touchdown, run for the game-tying two-point conversion and lead the drive to set up the winning field goal. And backup kicker Joey Bullen replaced Harmon, who had kicked a career-long 46-yarder earlier in the game but later suffered a groin injury, and made a 44-yard field goal to win the game.
Johnson said there would be no quarterback controversy. "Kaipo [Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada] did nothing wrong," he said. "He moved the offense. Jarod just gave us a kick. We can use them both, depending on the game situation."
But Johnson did say Bullen might have earned the starting job.
"I was watching Joey kick in pre-game, and he was struggling," Johnson said. "But give the kid credit. He is a gamer. When the game is on the line, he produces. There are kids like that, and he's one of them. I'm sold. ... It would be hard to take a guy out who just played like that."
Johnson said his team still has a lot to work on. "We made a lot of mistakes," he said, "but we can clean it up."