For Navy, Bizarre trip, familiar destination

— Sure has been a strange month for Navy.

Three weeks ago, the Midshipmen were on top of the world with a 35-17 upset win over Notre Dame at New Meadowlands Stadium.

They followed that with the mother of all let-downs, losing at home to Duke, 34-31, in a game in which they trailed 24-0 at halftime.

And they followed that with a 76-35 shellacking of East Carolina, the most points by a Navy team since 1919. (That was the year the Middies beat Colby, 120-0, which should have left Colby thinking about dropping football for, say, croquet.)

So two easy games in a row would probably have been too much for this Navy team Saturday. Instead it managed to hang on for a thrilling 38-37 win over Central Michigan at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

In the end, Navy picked up its seventh win of the season by stopping a two-point conversion attempt by Central Michigan with four seconds remaining, as a pass from Chippewas quarterback Ryan Radcliffe sailed over the head of tightly covered wide receiver Kito Poblah.

"Obviously, it was a heck of a ballgame," said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who looked totally drained. "Both teams battled to the end. When the game is so hard-fought like that, it's unfortunate someone has to lose."

Central Michigan, which amassed 294 passing yards, scored with four seconds remaining on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Radcliffe to wide receiver Cody Wilson.

After that, said Chippewas coach Dan Enos, the decision to go for two was an easy one.

"The whole team wanted to," he said. "I felt we had momentum. We only made them punt once the whole day, so I didn't want to get into a deal where we would have to go from the 25 (yards, in overtime) and be able to stop them consistently, and I thought that was our best chance to win the game outright.

"I asked our team and our coaches and it was 100 percent 'Let's go!' I asked them again [in the locker room after the game], 'Would you want to do it again?' And they said: 'Coach, we would do it all over again.' "

Poor Niumatalolo — he couldn't even bear to watch the final sequence as Central Michigan went for two.

"I didn't see it," he said. "I had my head down and I just listened for the cheers. Fortunately, the cheers came from our side of the field."

In hindsight, you can understand Enos' decision not to get into an overtime shooting match with Navy given the way the Middies have been running their triple-option offense.

Even with senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs sidelined with a concussion, the triple-option was a monster.

With junior quarterback Kriss Proctor carrying the ball 20 times for 201 yards, Navy finished with 437 yards rushing.

"I give a lot of credit to Coach [Ivin] Jasper," Niumatalolo said of the team's offensive coordinator/quarerbacks. "He did a good job of getting Kriss ready. Ricky Dobbs has played a ton of games for us. But we found out Monday he may be down and got Kriss ready to go.

". . . Kriss has made runs like he had today on the practice field. It's unfortunate that he plays behind the guy who is going to have every school record. That doesn't mean Kriss is not a good player."

No, on this day, Proctor was more than good, he was sensational.

Time after time he made exactly the right decision on when to hold the ball and when to pitch it against the Chippewas defense.

"They came out in a 6-1 [front] and I was just trying to get people the ball," Proctor said. "It was an excellent job of blocking up front. …You work hard in the offseason, work hard during the season, and you want to get it done when you have the chance."

Said Middies senior tackle Jeff Battipaglia: "Kriss brought some new energy and life to the locker room, and we just built on that in the second half."

The win gave Navy its eighth straight winning season, the academy's longest streak since 1952-1961, when Navy put together 10 winning seasons in a row.

And there's also this: Navy has qualified to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Pointsettia Bowl, which just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

That'll be on Dec. 23 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, projected to be against a team from the Mountain West Conference. And it's the eighth straight year in which Navy will go to a bowl game – a school record.

San Diego right before Christmas — the Middies can definitely handle that.

Especially with all they've been through this season.

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.)

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