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Quarterback Xavier Arline not enough as Navy offense struggles again in 19-6 loss to No. 22 Tulsa

Everyone involved with the Navy football program takes great pride in being difficult to beat at home.

Coming into this season, the Midshipmen had compiled an impressive 53-13 record at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in 12 seasons under coach Ken Niumatalolo. Navy went 6-0 at home on the way to finishing 11-2 in 2019.

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That proud tradition has taken a hit this season as the Mids are now 1-4 at home following another disappointing performance.

Freshman quarterback Xavier Arline breathed a little life into the offense, but not nearly enough as Navy was limited to two field goals in a 19-6 loss to No. 22 Tulsa on Saturday in Annapolis.

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Arline amassed 60 rushing yards, and the fact that it was the most by a Navy quarterback this season speaks volumes for the team’s ongoing offensive struggles. However, no other element of the triple-option was productive as the Midshipmen mustered only 153 total yards.

Fullback Nelson Smith, who has carried the offense for most of the season, was held to 33 yards on 12 carries and the slotbacks were once again a non-factor.

“It’s hard to win a game without scoring any touchdowns. We have to improve offensively. We’re just too inconsistent, so sporadic,” Niumatalolo said. “Definitely very frustrating. I’ve been here a long time and we’re just inept.”

Yet another dismal offensive effort wasted a second straight strong outing by the Navy defense, which repeatedly stiffened in its own territory and limited Tulsa to four field goals by Zach Long, who converted from 48, 37, 36 and 25 yards. That was more than enough against a Navy offense that has been held to single digits in four games — the first time that has happened since 1992.

Safety Mitch West recorded eight tackles (seven solo), while outside linebacker John Marshall and inside linebacker Tama Tuitele notched seven apiece for Navy, which limited Tulsa to 296 yards. Inside linebacker Diego Fagot had five solo tackles and a forced fumble, which he recovered.

It was almost a repeat of what happened last week in a 10-7 home loss to Memphis. It marks the first time since 2000 the Midshipmen have been held to seven points or less in consecutive games.

“We played well enough on defense to win the game,” Niumatalolo said. “You’re not going to beat anybody scoring six points.”

Quarterback Zach Smith threw for 168 yards and a touchdown while running back Corey Taylor II ran for 69 yards for Tulsa (6-1, 6-0), which clinched a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Meanwhile, Navy (3-6, 3-3) is assured of just its third losing season since 2003. Most disheartening for the Midshipmen was that this loss snapped a 17-game winning streak on Senior Day.

“It’s very tough considering we wanted to send the seniors out the right way,” Fagot said.

Navy enters Saturday’s showdown against archrival Army on a four-game losing streak.

“We’re definitely going to have to refocus this upcoming week,” Fagot said. “We have to put everything behind us and focus up for Army.”

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Arline was shaky early then seemed to settle in. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound plebe gained 97 yards on the ground, but absorbed 37 negative yards, mostly the result of taking three sacks. The Long Island native completed 4 of 8 passes for 27 yards, using his arm to convert two first downs.

“I did not play well early on. Just too many mistakes and being too indecisive. I have to learn from it and play better,” Arline said. “I really wanted to come out here and get a win for these guys on Senior Day. That was my No. 1 goal. I feel like I didn’t do everything I could to make that happen.”

Arline’s other major goal in his second start was to take care of the football, and that he did. Navy’s lone turnover was a fumble by slotback Myles Fells.

It was a defensive struggle in the first half with the teams combining for 188 total yards.

Navy’s defense stood tall despite repeatedly being handed a short field. A 15-yard punt by Ben Fee set up Tulsa at the home team’s 45-yard line and led to a 48-yard field goal by Long.

Fells fumbled at his own 25-yard line after absorbing a violent blow and left for good with a head injury. Navy’s defense responded with a strong goal-line stand and Tulsa settled for a 22-yard field goal by Long to take a 6-0 lead with 3:22 remaining in the first half.

Tulsa had three drives end in punts, while Fagot brought an abrupt end to another by ripping the ball from the hands of Taylor then recovering the fumble.

Navy only managed 14 yards and one first down on six possessions before finally getting something going late in the first half. Arline jump-started the drive by scrambling for 19 yards into Tulsa territory after tucking the ball on a pass play.

Arline completed a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Mark Walker to give Navy a first down at the 11-yard line with nine seconds left. However, Arline was sacked on the subsequent play and the Midshipmen settled for a 34-yard field goal by Nichols that made it 6-3 at halftime.

Navy got the ball to start the second half and put together its best drive. Arline gained 11 yards off a keeper to get things going and the Mids picked up four first downs and advanced to the 15 of the visitors before things stalled.

Kicker Bijan Nichols came on and booted a 32-yard field goal to tie the score 6-6 at the 7:08 mark of the third quarter. Navy ran 14 plays and took almost eight minutes off the clock but could not punch the ball into the end zone. That inability to score touchdowns after penetrating deep into Tulsa territory was the difference.

“We have to be able to finish and put points on the board. We were down by a touchdown at one point in that game,” Arline said. “We were marching and if we score a touchdown on one of those drives when we had a field goal, it’s a whole different ballgame. I always look at myself first and I’ve got to make better reads. I missed too many of them in this game.”

Facing third-and-13 from his own 34-yard line, Smith delivered a dime — hitting wide receiver Josh Johnson in stride with a long throw down the middle. Four Navy defensive backs were in the area, but Smith dropped the ball over their heads and into the arms of Johnson, who raced untouched into the end zone to complete a 66-yard scoring strike.

“We were right there with a chance to make a play and just missed it,” Niumatalolo said.

A false start penalty on senior offensive lineman Billy Honaker contributed to a three-and-out on the subsequent possession and Navy gave the ball right back. Tulsa put together an 11-play drive that reached the home team’s 20-yard line before the Navy defense once again stiffened.

Long kicked his third goal of the game, a 37-yarder, to increase the Tulsa lead to 16-6 with 10:58 remaining in the game. Long added a 36-yard field goal with 2:54 remaining to complete the scoring.

NAVY@ARMY

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