ANNAPOLIS | Navy started the first drive of the second half Saturday trailing Rutgers 14-6. After holding the Midshipmen to 97 yards rushing in the first half, the Scarlet Knights had stuffed the Mids’ ground game again. It was third-and-7, and the Mids were desperate for a big play. They got bailed out by the most unlikely of sources.
“It was supposed to be a post-corner, and I got bumped off my route a little bit by the safety, so I kept it more vertical, but I still was looking over my outside shoulder because I know that’s where [quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada] was going to put it,” wide receiver Tyree Barnes recalled. “That’s just the way fate turned out - it just happened to drop right there where I put my hands for it.”
That reception was good for 41 yards. On the next play, Kaheaku-Enhada connected with sophomore Mike Schupp for 14 yards. Three plays later, Kaheaku-Enhada and Barnes hooked up again for 22 yards and a touchdown.
That scoring drive softened Rutgers’ defense and allowed Navy’s ground attack to take form and complete a 23-21 win. But the aerial assault likely changed the complexion of the game.
“We got a great scheme when it comes to our passing game,” Kaheaku-Enhada said. “It’s not the most intricate passing scheme, but I think it’s pretty efficient.”
Navy receivers sometimes get lost in the triple-option offense. Since the Mids are a run-first team, the wideouts must block on almost every play.
“We run the ball. We know that,” Barnes said. “A big part of us running the ball is us blocking on the perimeter, so we take pride in holding our blocks and turning those 20-yard plays into 70-yard plays.”
But as the Scarlet Knights learned Saturday, the Mids’ wideouts can make their own game-changing plays. None seemed more important than Barnes’ two catches, one to extend the momentum-shifting drive and the other completing it in the end zone.
When offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper calls a pass play, there is genuine glee among the Mids’ receivers. The opportunity to catch a pass is so rare (Navy has thrown only 34 passes in four games) that they rush to the line of scrimmage.
But they also understand a completion is critical. Navy’s passing game is used as a change of pace, but it often results in big gains as unassuming defenses leave Kaheaku-Enhada’s targets streaking open down the field.
“Everybody wants to be on the play side,” Barnes said. “As soon as we hear the call in the huddle, guys are fighting to be the one to be over there. We know if the ball is in the air, if Kaipo gives us a chance to go make a play, we have to come down with it.
“We know that if we mess one up, there might not be another one for two, three quarters, maybe even the next game. So when the ball is in the air, we make sure to go up and get it.”
Kaheaku-Enhada also deserves credit for the strides he has made with his throwing. The senior garners praise from Navy’s coaches for his ability to make option reads but quietly has improved his passing technique as well. His improved footwork has led to more accurate throws, helping him go 8-for-11 this season.
“He has been very efficient throwing the ball, and that is what we are looking for,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Not quantity but quality. When we throw the ball, we want to make it count like we did on Saturday.”
Barnes, a senior, leads the receiving corps this year. He has shaken off past injuries and set a career high with 203 receiving yards. His sure hands have been on display all season even though most of the time they are used to block.