There are certain things Navy can control as it prepares for its game against Hawaii at Aloha Stadium on Saturday. The weather, however, is not one of them. When the Midshipmen went outside for practice Monday in Annapolis, they put on sweat pants and long sleeves and worked out in the cold, windy, rainy weather.
"I don't know too many things, but I know it's warmer in Honolulu," coach Ken Niumatalolo said with a laugh. The forecast for Saturday's game calls for partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 82 degrees. The Midshipmen are excited to be making their first trip to Hawaii since 1999, but they're also wary of the challenges it presents.
Instead of taking a charter flight on Friday, as Navy usually does for road games, players and coaches were split between two commercial flights Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year. Kickoff on Saturday is at 5:30 p.m. local time, which is 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, seven hours later than the Midshipmen's normal start time for home games.
"Logistically, this trip has been a nightmare," said Niumatalolo, who grew up in Laie, about 30 miles north of Honolulu. "We've just got to make the best of it. It is what it is, and some things are out of our control: how far away it is, the [five-hour] time difference. Our big push is just to make sure that we're prepared right, and do the things we can control."
Niumatalolo played and coached at Hawaii from 1987 to 1994, and he knows how easy it is for visiting teams to get distracted once they get to Oahu. The Midshipmen are staying in Waikiki, at a hotel that sits across from the beach.
"It's not like we can put blinds on the windows or lock [the players] up in their rooms," he said.
In previous years, the Midshipmen spent Thanksgiving at the academy, preparing for the Army-Navy game. They held an abbreviated practice in the morning and ate a traditional meal in King Hall, the academy's vast dining hall. This year, they will eat a team lunch, visit the USS Arizona Memorial, and hold their regular Thursday practice.
Niumatalolo wants his players to enjoy their time in Hawaii. But at the same time, he doesn't want them to get lulled into thinking that this trip is like going to a bowl game.
Navy is 8-3 and has accepted an invitation to play in the Texas Bowl in Houston's Reliant Stadium on Dec. 31. But the Midshipmen still have plenty to play for before then; they face Army (5-6) on Dec. 12 with a chance to win the Commander in Chief's trophy for an unprecedented seventh straight time. If they win their three remaining games, they will set a school record for victories in a season. If they beat Hawaii (5-6) and Army, they will become the first team since the 1905 squad to win 10 regular-season games.
For the first time since Oct. 17 against Southern Methodist, the Midshipmen should have their top three offensive playmakers on the field at the same time. Junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs (knee), Murray (shoulder) and sophomore slot back Marcus Curry (quadriceps) are Navy's top three rushers, and all have missed at least one game in the past because of injury.
Saturday, 10:30 p.m.
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