By Bill McCaughey
For The Fort Bend Star
Houston, which had allowed only 42 rushing yards per game, could not stop Navy’s flexbone offense as Navy rushed for 306 yards on 63 carries.
“We are just not good enough and deep enough to play a C level game against a formidable opponent,” Coach Tom Herman said. “If we don’t bring our A game, we can lose.”
Houston scored first on a Greg Ward Jr. 32-yard pass to Steven Dunbar. But Navy returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the Houston 12-yard line where Chris High ran it in on the next play. Houston and Navy then traded field goals to make the score 10-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Houston’s Ty Cummings kicked a 19-yard field goal to give the Cougars a 3-point lead but Navy went 71 yards in seven rushing plays to take the lead 17-13. Houston responded with an 80-yard drive, and took the lead as Ward hit Dillon Birden for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Navy kicked a 38-yard field goal as time ran out to make the halftime score 20-20.
To open the third quarter, Navy recovered a Ward fumble at the Houston 41-yard line and scored on a 17-yard pass from Will Worth to Darryl Bonner. On the next series Navy’s Josiah Powell intercepted a Ward pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown giving Navy a 34-20 lead.
“We wanted to take away the easy throws they had been completing. We overplayed some routes and we got the turnover,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Houston cut the lead to 34-27 as the Cougars went on a 14-play, 81-yard drive ending with Ward scoring on an 8-yard run. Navy then went 80-yards in seven plays scoring on Worth’s 34-yard pass to Brandon Colon. The third quarter ended with Navy leading 41-27.
The Cougars scored on their first drive of the fourth quarter on a Birden 2-yard run, but Navy blocked the extra point attempt. After holding Navy on a fourth down attempt at the Houston 16-yard line, the Cougars gave up a safety making the score 43-33. Seizing the momentum, Navy recovered their onside kick at the Houston 30-yard line and kicked a field goal to make the score 46-33 with 4:38 to go in the fourth quarter.
Chance Allen scored on a 17-yard pass from Ward to make the score 46-40 but Navy recovered Houston’s onside kick and ran the clock down to 0:09 before punting the ball. The Cougars attempted a series of laterals but Ward was tackled to end the game.
The game was decided in the first four minutes of the third quarter when Navy scored after recovering a Ward fumble and immediately scored again on a Ward interception.
“This was a tough loss obviously. Our top two goals are to play great defense and win the turnover battle,” Herman said. “We didn’t do either one.”
Navy possessed the ball for almost 35 minutes for the game but more importantly they controlled the ball for 9:41 in the fourth quarter while holding onto the lead. Navy rushed 63 times for 306 yards and completed 3 of 5 passes for 76 yards. Quarterback Will Worth rushed 32 times for 115 yards and Toneo had six carries for 64 yards.
“Worth had a phenomenal game,” Niumatalolo said.
“We were practicing for the Houston game all during spring practice and during the season,” Worth said. “We just had to come out and execute. Our offensive line just dominated the whole game. It feels awesome to beat the number 6 ranked team in the country.”
For the Cougars, Ward was 32-50 for 359 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had 17 carries for 100 yards and Dillon Birden had 13 carries for 53 yards and one touchdown. Linell Bonner had nine receptions for 117 yards and Steven Dunbar had nine receptions for 112 yards and one touchdown. Chance Allen of Elkins had seven receptions for 87 yards and one touchdown.
“We have a 24-hour rule. After 24 hours we forget the last game and move on to the next game,” Bonner said.
Matt Adams of Hightower and D’Juan Hines each had 12 tackles, true freshman Ed Oliver had 11, and Khalil Williams of Hightower had 10.
“One loss won’t define our legacy,” Hines said. “We need to look forward to the next game.”
“We are not going to dwell on this loss,” defensive end Cameron Malveaux said. “We still have goals to achieve.”
The Cougars play Tulsa Saturday night at 6 p.m. at TDECU Stadium.