Typical of a service academy, it’s no surprise that Navy has put aside serious setbacks to its football season to focus on the mission at hand.
Particularly for a guy headed to the Marine Corps as an officer.
“We are always going to bounce back, it doesn’t matter if it goes our way or doesn’t, we just have to keep pushing forward,” said Navy defensive lineman Amos Mason. “It speaks to our team because we’ve had things that have set us back, but no matter what we come back swinging.”
The No. 25 Midshipmen (9-4) will play Louisiana Tech (8-5) in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at 3:30 p.m. Friday at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium.
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44 Points per game for Louisiana Tech, fifth in the nation
A victory would mark the first time Navy has won 10 games in back-to-back seasons. Before coach Ken Niumatalolo came aboard nine seasons ago, Navy had had only two 10-win seasons in 127 years, 1905 and 2004.
It has been somewhat of a letdown for a Navy team that was on the verge of playing in a New Year’s Day Six bowl game. The Midshipmen’s charge up the CFP rankings included an upset of then-No. 6 Houston and Notre Dame. In three games leading up to the AAC title game, the Midshipmen racked up 183 points.
But that was before record-setting quarterback Will Worth and slotback Toneo Gulley went down in the American Athletic Conference championship game loss to Temple.
The Midshipmen come in limping yet hopeful they can find an offensive rhythm missing in consecutive losses to end the regular season, to Temple and Army.
Zach Abey will be at quarterback having made one start at the position two weeks ago. It’s a drop-off from Worth, who set a school record for total offense (2,595 yards) and led the nation in rushing TDs (25) during the regular season.
“Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling one of our reporters going into our championship game … this is as healthy as we’ve been going into any part of the year,” Niumatalolo said. “And I think I jinxed our program.”
The game features a collision of styles offensively. Louisiana Tech will be exposed to a way of life entirely different from its own, but after all, what is higher education about if not new experiences?
Navy’s triple-option offense, seldom seen in today’s era, against the Bulldogs’ spread-it-out and let-it-fly scheme quarterbacked by Ryan Higgins and coached by Skip Holtz.
The Bulldogs also have been difficult to stop this season.
Higgins has passed for more than 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns.
516.1 Yards per game for Louisiana Tech, eighth in the nation
The Bulldogs are vying for a third consecutive bowl victory and fifth in school history. Yet, Louisiana Tech also comes in riding a two-game losing streak, including a loss to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA title game.
“It’s been rough,” said Bulldogs receiver Trent Taylor. “You kind of forget about all the wins because it feels like you haven’t won in so long. I think everyone’s been focused on that aspect.”
Both teams had success this season despite heavy losses due to graduation the year before.
That knowledge and players’ education in the system, not to mention a senior-laden offensive line, are reasons enough for Navy to believe it can rebound from adversity.
And the type of leadership Mason provides.
Navy’s senior class has won more games than any other senior class in Annapolis over a four-year period.
“It has been great to experience this with these guys for one last time,” Mason said. “It’s been a really great time. People don’t get [to 10 wins] often. Winning back-to-back 10-win seasons speaks volume of this program.”
Armed Forces Bowl
Navy vs. Louisiana Tech
3:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN