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navy 33, temple 27, ot

QB Dobbs fills in, helps Mids come back from 20-point deficit late

November 02, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

Ken Niumatalolo has had several memorable moments with a remarkably resilient group of Midshipmen in his first season as Navy head coach. Unbelievably, yesterday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium turned into the most memorable of all.

Playing without senior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who was knocked out of the game in the third quarter after reinjuring his hamstring, Navy came from 20 points down against Temple in the fourth quarter and won in overtime, 33-27.

It is believed to be the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.

A 1-yard run by sophomore quarterback Ricky Dobbs on Navy's first possession of overtime gave the Midshipmen their improbable victory. With the win, Navy (6-3) became bowl-eligible, and the school immediately accepted its invitation to the inaugural EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 20 at RFK Stadium in Washington.

"I'm speechless," said Niumatalolo, who became the second Navy coach in modern history to win six games in his first season and will be the first to lead the Midshipmen to a bowl game in his first year. "Our kids continue to scratch and claw. I've been coaching for 19 years. Our team is unique."

Navy did get some help from Temple (3-6) to complete the turnaround.

It took a fumble by freshman tailback Kee-ayre Griffin in the final minute and a 42-yard touchdown return by linebacker Clint Sovie to force overtime. It took a dropped pass in the end zone by wide-open tight end Steve Maneri to keep the door open in the extra period.

"Certainly we could have kneeled down, but you give it to a running back, tell him to put two hands on it," Temple coach Al Golden said of Griffin's fumble. "That's what running backs do - carry the ball. I told him to go down if he gets held up, put two hands on it and don't go out of bounds."

Niumatalolo wouldn't second-guess Golden, whose decision to let a freshman tailback run the ball in that situation might go down in Philadelphia sports lore with Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards returning the fumble by New York Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik in 1978 with equally shocking results.

"There are some decisions I've made that I wish I would have taken back," Niumatalolo said diplomatically.

Asked what the mood was when the Midshipmen fell behind 27-7 early in the fourth quarter after Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele hit Bruce Francis on back-to-back 49-yard touchdown passes and Griffin ran for a 16-yard touchdown, Niumatalolo said: "Things looked pretty bleak for our team. We were trying to tell our kids: 'We have plenty of time. Keep fighting.' "

Even Dobbs said he was on the verge of admitting defeat when he threw an interception shortly after replacing Kaheaku-Enhada.

"At first, I was thinking about it so much. We wanted to give up, but I had to lay it on the line for all the seniors. I had them in mind," Dobbs said of the 33 seniors who were honored before the start of the game. "I knew that God would give me the strength that anything is possible."

Dobbs, who rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns the week before against Southern Methodist after replacing an injured Jarod Bryant, led Navy to three straight scores in the last 9:16 of regulation and in overtime.

The comeback began when Dobbs finished off a 10-play, 78-yard drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Thiel. It continued when Navy's defense stiffened and Dobbs led the Midshipmen on a nine-play, 64-yard drive that ended with his pitch to Eric Kettani for a 1-yard touchdown.

On the play, it appeared Temple had stopped Dobbs before he got the ball to Kettani, who led Navy with 118 yards on 22 carries.

"I heard a whistle, and so did Temple," Niumatalolo said later. "Maybe it was coming from the crowd. A lot of us stopped. They did, too."

After an onside kick went into the hands of Temple wide receiver Travis Shelton, it appeared the Owls were going to be able to run out the clock when DiMichele (21-for-28 for 340 yards, three touchdowns) completed a third-down pass to tight end Kevin Armstrong for a first down at the Temple 44-yard line.

Three plays later, on third-and-11, Griffin fumbled.

"I thought he was down, to tell you the truth," Sovie said. "I saw the ball, picked it up and started running. I was as shocked as anybody else. I was actually shocked that I didn't get hauled down because I'm not that fast."

As he watched his teammate race down the sideline and into the end zone, Kettani said, "Did he really do that?"

Niumatalolo summed up a feeling that permeated both sidelines - one of collective disbelief.

"At the end, you go from the [lowest] of lows to the highest of highs," he said. "I don't know what happened at the end."

NAVY VS. NOTRE DAME

Nov. 15, noon, at M&T Bank Stadium

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 1090 AM

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