ANNAPOLIS —- With so many new starters, there were bound to be some nerves displayed in Navy’s football season opener.
Kriss Proctor needed just three plays to get rid of his.
The senior quarterback rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns —- including a 75-yard scoring jaunt less than two minutes into the game —- as the Midshipmen dispatched Delaware 40-17 Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“It got the butterflies out,” Proctor said. “You go into a game, first start, and you’re a little bit nervous. You can admit it, but that got the butterflies out. You’re halfway down the field and you’re like ‘You’re playing football, it’s time to run.’ That’s what it did.”
Navy hardly looked like a team breaking in nine first-time starters (including seven on defense), scoring on five of its first six possessions. The Mids (1-0) did not commit a penalty, and their lone turnover was a Proctor interception on a third down in the second half that effectively served as a punt.
It was as benign as a miscue could be, and the lone blemish on Proctor’s otherwise fine day.
The senior played full games in the past, but this was his first start as the unquestioned No. 1 option . Proctor served as Ricky Dobbs’ backup the last two seasons, filling in for the charismatic quarterback on three occasions.
Proctor doesn’t bring an identical skillset to the Mids, but he was hardly shy in the hours leading into the opener.
“He said ‘Let’s put 40 on the board,’ and we put 40 on the board,” fullback Alexander Teich said. “His performance today was outstanding.”
It stemmed from more than just his own rushing. He executed a perfect pitch to Aaron Santiago for a 13-yard score for Navy’s second touchdown, and spotted Santiago for his first career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to finish off the Blue Hens (0-1).
In between, he set up Teich for a workmanlike day and minimized the work required from an inexperience Navy defense that settled in for a decent debut of its own.
“That’s Kriss Proctor,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We’ve seen it for the last three and a half years. The kid is a talented kid. I thought he did some great things, but the great thing about it is Kriss will be the first guy to tell you he can get better, and that’s the scary part.”
Navy’s defense played without nose guard Jared Marks, who served a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. That hardly mattered, since the Mids’ few veteran defenders emerged with crucial efforts.
Defensive end Jabaree Tuani was a constant nuisance in the Delaware backfield, both before and after starting quarterback Trevor Sasek left with a knee injury in the second half. Safety Kwesi Mitchell broke up a pair of passes and intercepted backup Tim Donnelly to set up Navy’s final touchdown.
Help also came from Navy’s new full-time kicker. Jon Teague connected from 54 yards —- breaking the program record of 52 yards set by Todd Solomon in 1984 —- less than a minute before halftime to provide a 19-7 cushion at the break.
Proctor put it away from there, looking very much like a man who has run the triple option since early in his high school career. He capped Navy’s first drive of the third quarter with a 27-yard scoring scamper to make it 26-7.
On his final snap —- just out of a timeout —- he exploited a defense accustomed to trying to stop the run all day, tossing it over a weary safety’s head and into Santiago’s hands. Seconds later, Teague’s point after attempt bumped Navy to 40 points on the button.
The Mids had done exactly what their quarterback had asked. And he’d looked superb in helping make it happen.
“It was the first game as the man, the go-to guy, and it’s just real nice as an athlete to get that monkey off your back,” Proctor said. “We did that today, and it really felt good.”
—- Patrick Stevens