DEKALB, Ill. - Ricky Dobbs fumbled on his first snap from scrimmage and didn't throw a pass for nearly 23 minutes last night.
But there wasn't a thing wrong with his legs.
Making his first start for Navy, the sophomore quarterback rushed for 124 yards on 25 carries and scored a touchdown as the Midshipmen blanked Northern Illinois, 16-0, for their first shutout in five years.
Navy (7-4) scored on its first two possessions and held the ball for more than 17 minutes in the first half.
"I thought Ricky played solid," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "As a sophomore and his first start, he took care of the football. We just wanted to make sure he managed the game. ... We just wanted to make sure he took care of the ball, and I thought he did that."
Dobbs' fumble could have been painful for Navy, stuck inside its own 10-yard line at that point. But Dobbs alertly pounced on the loose ball, preventing a Northern Illinois recovery and potential score.
"Other than that [fumble] it was like everything we've been working on in practice," said Dobbs, who became the sixth Navy quarterback to rush for 100 or more yards in his first start. "We had a good [practice week]. Unfortunately we couldn't put up more points, but we were moving [the ball] at will."
Navy got that first possession after cornerback Rashawn King intercepted Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish for his third pick of the season.
After Dobbs' fumble and recovery, the Midshipmen chewed up 11 minutes in an 81-yard drive capped by Matt Harmon's 27-yard field goal.
Dobbs rushed for 54 yards on seven carries, didn't pass once and had another fumble on the drive. This one bounced forward toward the NIU goal line and was recovered by Shun White at the Huskies' 3-yard line.
But the Midshipmen got no closer and settled for Harmon's field goal as the second quarter opened.
Dobbs then capped a 10-play, 85-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. But a snap on the extra-point attempt went awry.
Navy stalled near midfield on its opening possession of the second half, but the Midshipmen's defense stymied the Huskies on the ensuing drive, and they faced fourth-and-four at the Navy 36.
That's when Navy safety Emmett Merchant picked off Harnish and returned the interception 29 yards back into Northern Illinois territory.
Ten plays later, Navy went up 16-0 on Eric Kettani's 1-yard touchdown run and Harmon's extra point with 2:21 remaining in the period.
Kettani rushed for 92 yards on 19 carries for Navy. Harnish had 14 carries for 65 yards to lead Northern Illinois (6-6). He was also 14 of 24 for 116 yards passing.
"We moved the ball but we just couldn't finish," said Huskies coach Jerry Kill, whose team had faint hopes for a bowl invitation. "Overall, our offense played well tonight. We turned it over a couple of times and didn't get it back, and you can't do that against Navy."
Navy closes the regular season Dec. 6 with its annual clash with Army. The match at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field kicks off at noon.
Last night's nationally televised game completed a home-and-home series. The Midshipmen beat the Huskies, 35-24, last fall in Annapolis.
play it again
What went right for Navy
Ricky Dobbs was a big hit in his first start for the Midshipmen. He threw only once for 32 yards but effectively ran Navy's option attack and rushed for 124 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. Navy had 294 yards of offense, including 262 on the ground.
What went wrong for Navy
Not much. Even potentially costly fumbles went the Midshipmen's way. Dobbs recovered his own fumble deep in his territory early in the game, preventing the Huskies from recovering and possibly scoring.
Navy safety Emmett Merchant picked off Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish late in the third quarter. The Midshipmen went on to score and build a 16-0 lead.
What it means
The victory, the Midshipmen's third in their past four games, builds momentum entering their season finale with Army followed by a Dec. 20 appearance in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium in Washington.
Navy closes the regular season Dec. 6 with its annual clash with Army. The game at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field begins at noon.
NAVY (7-4) vs. ARMY (3-8)
Dec. 6, noon, Philadelphia
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 1090 AM