Special teams are unlikely heroes

The Baltimore Sun

This is what Navy didn't do Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colo., against Air Force.

The Midshipmen didn't attempt a pass until late in the first half on a play that resulted in defensive interference. They didn't complete a pass until midway through the third quarter, a 38-yarder from Jarod Bryant to Shun White.

The Midshipmen didn't put pressure on Air Force quarterback Shea Smith the way they had the previous two weeks against Mike Teel of Rutgers and Riley Skinner of Wake Forest.

This is what Navy did at Falcon Stadium: The Midshipmen won, 33-27.

Spurred by two blocked punts that resulted in touchdowns, settled by four field goals by senior kicker Matt Harmon and aided by two fumbles by the Falcons, Navy (4-2) beat Air Force (3-2) for the sixth straight year.

"We haven't been the greatest at special teams, so it was great to see our special teams step up," first-year Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Last week [in the win at Wake Forest] we dropped a ball, a guy [John Angelo] got knocked out, we've had a blocked punt. We kind of turned it around."

Said Harmon, who became the first Navy kicker since 1999 and the sixth in school history to make four field goals in a game: "We have a great team atmosphere, a great team chemistry. The whole field-goal team, everyone does their job."

Asked whether he felt some pressure given the struggles of the offense, Harmon said: "I don't think so. I have confidence in our offense that we're going to move the ball either way."

Fullback Eric Kettani, who made two key plays in gathering in an onside kick and then leaping over the Air Force line on a fourth-and-one conversion that locked up Navy's third straight victory this season, said some of the team's unsung heroes came through with big plays.

"Special teams played great - Blake Carter, Greg Shinego, Bobby Doyle, Matt Harmon," Kettani said.

Said junior linebacker Ross Pospisil, who recovered a fumble after making an interception in each of the previous two games: "I think it just shows that it's a total team effort. It comes from every facet of the game. It shows the character of the guys we've got on this team. No one is taking plays off."


Navy hadn't returned a punt for a touchdown since Gino Marchetti did it against Tulane in 1999 until Carter did it in the first quarter after Shinego blocked Ryan Harrison's punt attempt to help give the Midshipmen a 10-0 lead. Carter later blocked one himself, with Doyle falling on the ball in the end zone to give the Midshipmen some breathing room at 33-20 in the fourth quarter.


An offense that accounted for a season-low 244 yards, all but 38 on the ground. Though Bryant rushed for 101 yards on 24 carries playing in place of Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (hamstring injury), the offense came to a grinding halt. White carried the ball only three times for 5 yards, and his third fumble of the season led to Air Force's first touchdown. Bryant also lost one of his three fumbles.

Fast forward

The Midshipmen have the week off, then start a three-game homestand starting with suddenly revived Pittsburgh in Annapolis on Oct. 18. After opening the season by losing to Bowling Green, the Panthers have won four straight, including a 26-21 victory Thursday night at South Florida.


Oct. 18, 3:30 p.m.

TV: CBS College Sports Network

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