MUNCIE, Ind. - It was the little things that always seemed to get in Navy's way during its game against Ball State last night, and the little things cost the Midshipmen dearly.
Navy's 35-23 loss came down to the Midshipmen's inability to consistently stop Cardinals quarterback Nate Davis and failure to capitalize on fourth-and-one on the Ball State 3-yard line.
"The thing that was frustrating for me was that we were making our own mistakes," Navy first-year coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We were moving the football, but when we got into the red zone, we seemed to self-destruct. They're a good football team, and we didn't need to help them. We were making mental mistakes and couldn't finish drives."
Trailing 21-16 at halftime, the Midshipmen seemed to find their offense at the start of the second half and scored on their opening possession. After Shun White's 71-yard run, Navy took the lead for the first time on a 1-yard run by quarterback Jarod Bryant.
The Cardinals matched the Mids' touchdown on an 11-play drive, capped by an 8-yard touchdown catch by Dante Love, who tormented Navy's secondary for most of the night.
That set up the turning point of the game, as Navy, with its running game in gear, pushed the ball from its 30 to the Ball State 3. On fourth-and-one, the Midshipmen needed 1 yard for the first down, but Bryant was stuffed by Ball State defensive lineman Drew Duffin on a keeper behind fullback Eric Kettani, a play that had worked well most of the night.
"We had our chances, and we didn't capitalize," Bryant said. "It looked like they just dove at our legs. ... I wished I would have gotten behind my pads a little more and gotten it. We've got to convert those."
The Cardinals drove nearly the length of the field and went up by two scores on Davis' 35-yard touchdown pass to Darius Hill at the 12:46 mark of the fourth quarter. Navy never threatened again.
"[The fourth-down play] gave them the momentum," said White, who rushed for 128 yards on 13 carries, 101 of those yards in the second half. "We couldn't get that 1 yard, and they took the momentum and just ran with it. We just made too many mistakes as team. They were jumping around, but we knew what defense they were going to run."
Navy rushed for 346 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry but left points on the table on its first three scoring opportunities when drives fizzled. The Mids settled for field goals by Matt Harmon of 49, 29 and 28 yards. Harmon's 49-yarder on Navy's first drive at the 9:17 mark of the first quarter was the longest of his career.
While Navy was kicking field goals, Ball State was scoring touchdowns, as Davis lit up the Mids' secondary for 326 yards and four touchdown passes. Two of those touchdowns went to Love, who caught nine passes for 165 yards. Love scored on a 6-yard run in the first quarter, as well.
On the second play of the game, Davis found Love open down the right sideline for a 61-yard reception, giving the Cardinals a 7-0 lead.
After Harmon's 49-yard field goal, Davis drove Ball State down the field again, and Love scored his second touchdown by taking an inside handoff from Davis for a 6-yard run to put Ball State up 14-3.
Navy continued to move the ball into Ball State's territory but settled for two more field goals by Harmon, the latter set up by Blake Carter's interception.
After a fumbled kickoff put the Cardinals in their worse field position of the night, Ball State marched 92 yards, culminating in Briggs Orsbon's 30-yard touchdown catch from Davis.
On Navy's next possession, Kettani broke free for a 45-yard run up the middle to give the Midshipmen another scoring chance. That set up Bryant's 14-yard touchdown run over left tackle to get Navy within five points again, 21-16, just before halftime.
Next for Navy: @Duke, next Saturday, noon
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