Gail Burton/Associated Press
Virginia’s Joe Reed returned the opening kickoff of Thursday’s Military Bowl 98 yards for a touchdown, and at least for a few seconds, it looked as though it might be the Cavaliers’ day.
Not so much.
Navy thoroughly dominated Virginia behind its option running attack and a suffocating defense, scoring 49 unanswered points after Reed’s touchdown en route to a 49-7 victory at the Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.
ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB
Navy gave up a 98-yard KO return TD to Virginia on the first play of the game. How did it answer? By scoring 49 unanswered. https://t.co/VKeO3xRlOg
The Midshipmen attempted just one pass, an incompletion, but it didn’t matter, as they rushed for 452 yards while holding an impressive 42 minutes in time of possession. Virginia, meanwhile, turned the ball over three times and managed just 175 yards from scrimmage.
Quarterbacks Malcolm Perry (16 rushes for 114 yards and two touchdowns) and Zach Abey (13 rushes for 88 yards and five scores) led the way for Navy, while running back Chris High added 101 rushing yards. Even by Navy’s standards, Thursday’s rushing performance was historic, per ESPN Stats & Information:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Navy had 76 rushes for 452 yards in its win over Virginia. 76 rush attempts are most by a Navy team since 2013 when it rushed 93 times in a loss to Toledo https://t.co/Qc8wuhsTSM
Virginia was held to just 30 yards on the ground, meanwhile, with most of its offense coming from the inconsistent quarterback play of Kurt Benkert (16-of-36, 145 yards, no touchdowns, one interception).
Suffice it to say, things got pretty ugly for Virginia late in the game, as Jesse Varner of WTKR News 3 noted:
Jesse Varner @JesseWTKR
Come on #Navy…. #UVA #GoHoos #MilitaryBowl https://t.co/Bsgf3I9xti
Frankly, the Cavaliers were comically bad at points.
Late in the third quarter, punter Lester Coleman turned the ball over while attempting to kick the ball away after he knelt to catch a low snap. In college, a player is automatically ruled down if his knee touches the ground, even if he wasn’t contacted, so instead of punting, the Cavaliers turned the ball over on downs, losing 14 yards on the play and giving the Midshipmen the ball on the Virginia 23-yard line.
Virginia also missed a field goal, fumbled a punt return and had another turnover on downs at Navy’s 30-yard line.
Nonetheless, Justin Ferber of Rivals tried to find the silver lining for the Cavaliers on a day when everything went wrong:
Justin Ferber @Justin_Ferber
Next year will be a critical one, particularly for Robert Anae and the offense. The defense will have to replace Blanding, Brown and Kiser as well. Should be an interesting season in 2018.
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall took the blame for the team’s flat performance, per Sherree Burruss of NBC Washington:
Sherree Burruss @SherreeBurruss
UVA Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he didn’t have his team prepared for today based off the way they played. Complimented Navy and their performance #militarybowl https://t.co/uEm64Efd72
It should be noted that Navy not only played on its home field, but the frigid conditions favored its smashmouth brand of football. Nonetheless, the loss was a bitter end to Virginia’s 6-7 season, the team’s sixth straight season with a losing record.
Navy may not be pleased with a 7-6 campaign after winning at least eight games in the past five seasons, but Thursday’s dominance will give the team something to build upon in 2018.