It might not have seemed like it a month into the season.
Navy lost three of its first four games, including predictable setbacks against Notre Dame and Penn State. While a Sept. 29 loss to a San Jose State bunch that went on to a 10-2 season doesn’t look bad in retrospect, it was still jarring for the Mids to absorb a shutout and manage only 144 yards offense.
A quarterback change late in the following game (plebe Keenan Reynolds for an injured Trey Miller against Air Force) granted Navy a new look. But the Mids also got back to grinding out close victories; after going 2-5 in one-possession games last season, Navy was 4-0 in those contests this fall.
“Look at last year; the little things plagued us and we lost a bunch of games,” French said. “That was our focus and I think it paid off. Look how many fumbles and turnovers the first four games and look at the outcomes. Then look at the turnover margin after that and look at the win-loss column. It all translates. It’s nice when you have a plan and see that it works out and pays dividends.”
It was nonetheless a season that could have led nowhere. While coaches and players insist they believed the fall still held potential and the Mids faced a favorable schedule (just one of their final six opponents went on to reach a bowl game), it’s hard to tell where things might have gone with an Oct. 6 loss at Air Force.
Instead, Navy rallied that day to win in overtime, validating the philosophy of its savvier players who never chose panic or anxiety.
“If we had been afraid as a senior class and tight and worried about some things, I really think we wouldn’t have played as well as we have,” Snelson said. “I think when you go back and turn on the tape, the opportunities that were afforded to us, most of those we definitely seized.”
While Navy went about securing victories, it also possessed the haunting knowledge of what would happen if there wasn’t a recovery.
“We easily could have not won any more games, probably won three or four games and beat Army and been content,” Turner said. “But we didn’t want that. I felt a lot of us sat down and figured out what we needed to do and we got it done, which is pretty cool to look at. You always talk about teams doing that, but we actually sat down, figured out what we wanted to do and accomplished our goals.”
Saturday offers another chance to demonstrate the power of the Navy football brotherhood, which is already buoyed after seven wins in eight games. Snelson found particular satisfaction from receiving texts, calls and Facebook messages from last year’s seniors, who expressed pride in the turnaround season.
One last opportunity awaits these seniors, who have accomplished about everything they could have hoped to when the season started.
Well, almost everything.
“We still wanted to get a least a 10-win season and that didn’t happen, but we still have a chance to come out with nine wins after this bowl game,” senior safety Tra’ves Bush said. “We just have to keep working hard and see if we can make that happen.”