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Navy looking to right its ship on crucial kicks in close encounters

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ANNAPOLIS — Navy kicker Jon Teague had an increasingly familiar sensation when he trudged away from Saturday's 21-20 loss to Rutgers.

A crucial kick was blocked. The Midshipmen had lost. And soon enough, he would move on to the next attempt and the next week with the belief the outcome would be different.

"We're doing all we can to fix the kinks and everything," Teague said. "If it wasn't the last kick of the game for Air Force, if it wasn't the last kick of the game for Rutgers, nobody would even be talking about this right now. If I missed an extra point earlier in the game and we ended up winning, nobody would be talking about this."

Probably not.

Nonetheless, the Mids (2-4) have seen four kicks blocked this season, including three in as many weeks. A blocked extra-point attempt was the difference in an overtime loss to Air Force. Southern Mississippi scooped up a blocked field goal to open the scoring in an Oct. 8 rout. And Teague's 41-yarder in the fourth quarter against Rutgers was swatted away to preserve the Scarlet Knights' lead.

And here's the odd thing: Something different has led to a block each time.

"It's always a concern," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We've gotten it from everywhere: The short side, our long side, up the middle. It's a constant deal we'll try to continue to work. Schematically, we're going to look at it. Personnel-wise, we're going to look at it because it's been a twofold thing. It's been partly protection and partly getting the ball up higher and quicker."

It's a priority for Navy, which plays host to East Carolina (2-4) on Saturday, in large part because of the Mids' penchant for close games. Three of their four losses were decided by a combined five points, a continuation of Navy's long-running trend to play tight contests.

In Teague, the Mids have a kicker who earlier in the season set a school record with a 54-yard field goal. Niumatalolo initially pursed his lips and smiled earlier this week when asked if kicks were more nerve-wracking of late and then described the trust he has in Teague.

"I think Jon's got a pretty short memory," special teams coordinator Steve Johns said. "He's a tough kid; he's mentally tough, so he knows you can't unscramble the egg. You just to kick the next one and line up and do it. What's done is done. You can't change it. You just hope to learn from the breakdowns that happened and try to get better."

The latest block was perhaps the most shocking and unexpected of the bunch. Navy's field goal unit bunched ever-so-slightly, worried there would be leakage inside against the Scarlet Knights. Instead, Brandon Jones zipped in from the side to deny the go-ahead kick.

Another week, another meaningful try that very nearly didn't go awry.

"Air Force, the guy probably got a pinky and a ring finger on it," Teague said. "The field goal I missed against Air Force, it was directly over the post and it was a judgment call. And Rutgers, the guy dove from five yards away and got a hand on it. Those things could have been an inch this way or an inch that way and didn't work out."

Except they weren't, leaving Navy's path to bowl eligibility more difficult to navigate than in recent years. Still, Teague isn't panicking.

He's a four-year contributor and knows there's no reason to dwell on the past with a half-dozen games still to come. Plus, timing is crucial for a kicker — a lesson reinforced this month.

"Hopefully," Teague said ruefully, "We've had everything that could happen to us [happen] so we can fix everything."

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