In his first start this season and the third in his Navy football career, junior quarterback Kriss Proctor directed the triple option Saturday as if the intricacies of the offense happened to have been designed with him specifically in mind. He dipped and dodged his way to 201 rushing yards, was virtually flawless in his decisions to pitch or keep the ball and had Central Michigan defenders often grasping at air in leading the Midshipmen to a thrilling 38-37 victory.
In many cases, that dazzling performance would have provided more than enough evidence to convince coaches that Proctor should be the starter again. Except that this is the Naval Academy, and Proctor's status happens to be that of backup to senior Ricky Dobbs, whose accomplishments are at or near the top of too many school-record lists to mention.
Dobbs missed Navy's most recent game to recover from a concussion the week before but since has worked with the first team. Coach Ken Niumatalolo pronounced his senior co-captain ready for Saturday against Arkansas State. That means Proctor goes back to understudy, although he does so without a hint of the animus or resentment that can splinter the relationship between a starter and his eager, capable backup.
"Obviously we both want to play, but I'd say our friendship is unparalleled with, I'd say, any other quarterbacks in Division I," Proctor said. "We're practically best friends. We spend every day together."
That isn't hyperbole either. The two are roommates, so even when Proctor and Dobbs are not on the football field or studying game film, they're probably relaxing together. That familiarity with each other has not just forged mutual admiration but buoys the team on a practical level.
Dobbs is the more established passer, so Proctor gleans all he can about improving his accuracy and receiver progressions watching Dobbs in practice and on game days. Proctor, meantime, is a whiz at making defenders miss, and his moves in tight spaces at times amaze even the unflappable Dobbs, who bobs and weaves with the best of them even though he doesn't shirk contact when necessary.
"As a duo, we like to call each other, I'm Thunder, and he's Lightning, because I'm more of a power runner, and he'll run around you and outrun you," said Dobbs, who has one game of 200 rushing yards, in 2008 when he amassed 224 and four touchdowns in a 34-7 victory over Southern Methodist. "With the combination, it's just like a thunderstorm."
This season Dobbs and Proctor have combined for 955 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. They've thrown for 1,063 yards with an efficiency rating of 141.8 and are 18-7 over their careers. At home, they've combined for an 8-1 record.
On Saturday, Dobbs will take his customary spot as the centerpiece of the triple option for his final game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Dobbs is one of 23 seniors who will be honored before kickoff and is part of a graduating class that has the school record for wins within reach.
Dobbs has lost just once at home as a starter, and it happened this season in befuddling fashion against Duke, 34-31, which at the time was 1-6. Even then, Dobbs went out with a flair, marching Navy back into contention despite a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter. He completed two touchdown passes in the final period, including a 12-yarder with 2 minutes, 34 seconds to play that trimmed the margin to three points. He also threw for a two-point conversion and ran for another, but all that wasn't enough to overcome a series of mistakes in the first half.
Proctor had a sideline view for those proceedings, and all the while he was among Dobbs' most vocal supporters.
"It just goes to show what kind of football team we have here," Proctor said. "Neither one of us is [thinking], 'Well, I hope he pulls a hamstring in practice so I'm the guy.' We support each other. We help each other on the field with reads, reading defenses and coverages and stuff. We give each other tips."
The connection between Dobbs and Proctor has made coaching a bit less complicated for Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. Rather than concerning themselves with egos and potential in-house squabbling, they can design game plans suited to both players with full confidence each will be able to implement them n the field with the unwavering support of the other.
"I was telling somebody I was hoping that this didn't happen," Niumatalolo said playfully of Proctor's success against Central Michigan, "because I wanted to spring that out in the first game [next season]. Poor Navy, you know, Dobbs is gone. We knew who was behind him. We've seen [Proctor] out here a thousand times. Unfortunately other people saw him, too."