Dobbs takes center stage in Navy’s victory

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ANNAPOLIS | The afternoon started with an homage to Navy’s seniors, a group 32 players strong that will go down as one of the most successful in school history. But by the time the Midshipmen were through beating Delaware 35-18, the attention at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium had shifted to workhorse quarterback Ricky Dobbs.

With five rushing touchdowns against the Blue Hens, Dobbs reached 22 for the season and passed Chris McCoy (20 in 1997) for most rushing touchdowns in a season and Bill Ingram (21 in 1917) for total touchdowns in a season in school history.

“The record itself goes to all the offensive linemen and the fullbacks for blocking each play,” Dobbs said. “Without them, none of it would be possible as far as the drives to get down inside the 10-yard line and everything from there. To have this offense achieve that goes to show that hard work pays off.”

Mids coach Ken Niumatalolo has been especially impressed with Dobbs’ determination this season. After an MRI revealed a crack in his right kneecap, doctors told the second-year coach that Dobbs likely would be out for the season. But the junior rehabbed hard and has proved to have a high tolerance for pain, and he returned to the starting lineup last week for the Mids’ upset of Notre Dame.

Add to that his gradual improvement as an option quarterback, and Dobbs has found the end zone at a frenzied rate.

“The kid is amazing,” Niumatalolo said. “For him to come back and play the way he’s playing - I couldn’t be more proud of the young man. He’s a big reason we’ve been successful.”

The game was closer than the final score indicated. Delaware (6-4) dominated time of possession in the first half with its running game, and the Mids held a 14-12 lead entering the fourth quarter. But then their two most talented players put together a game-changing sequence.

On Navy’s first play of the fourth quarter, Dobbs ran an option play left for a career-long 46-yard run. On the play, Dobbs made the correct read, noticing that Delaware safety Charles Graves had committed early to his pitch option before bursting through a monstrous hole. Two plays later, Dobbs ran in from 3 yards out to tie McCoy.

On the second play of the Blue Hens’ ensuing drive, Jabaree Tuani flew around the edge, stripped the ball from quarterback Pat Devlin and then fell on it for the sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery all in one - any defensive end’s signature play.

“It’s like getting a touchdown if you’re on offense,” Tuani said. “We’re just out there trying to play for the seniors since it’s their last one at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, so I just played like if it was my last game here as well.”

When Navy took over, fullback Alexander Teich danced his way 22 yards but was tripped up at the 2-yard line - the second time in the game he fell just shy of the goal line. The obligatory quarterback follow was next, and Dobbs punched it in to give Navy a 28-12 lead.

That sight has become somewhat of a trend this season - 14 of Dobbs’ 22 scores have come from 3 yards out or closer, including all five on Saturday.

“We thrive as an offensive line on getting anybody into the end zone, especially Ricky,” senior right guard Osei Asante said. “We should never be stopped basically inside the 20. It’s automatic points when we get down there.”

Dobbs’ first touchdown of the day came at the end of the Mids’ first drive - a typical 10-play, 80-yard Navy march. His second came in the third quarter, after Mario Washington took a wide receiver screen 21 yards on third-and-6 and Teich was tripped up at the 1 on the next play. And his fifth came with 46 seconds left as Navy iced the game.

The Mids (8-3) head into their first bye week of the year with their goals in order. They are headed to the Texas Bowl on Dec. 31 and can win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by beating Army next month. And Saturday marked the seventh straight season Navy has won on senior day.

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