- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | One of the messages Navy’s coaches have emphasized this season is the importance of finishing games. The Midshipmen did so Saturday - and the result was the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.

Sophomore quarterback Ricky Dobbs scored on a 1-yard keeper in overtime to cap Navy’s 33-27 win against stunned Temple at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The Mids (6-3) overcame a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit to secure a trip to the Dec. 20 EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium, to be played against an ACC team (if nine teams from that conference are bowl eligible). This is the first time in school history the Mids have gone to six straight bowl games.

Navy chose to play defense first in overtime. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Temple’s 6-foot-6 junior tight end, Steve Maneri, dropped a pass in the back of the end zone, opening the door for Dobbs’ winning carry.

“Our kids are unbelievable,” said coach Ken Niumatalolo, who is the first coach to lead the Mids to a bowl berth in his first season. “Just the resiliency of our team and our players, they fight and scratch and claw. … This team is unique.”

With the Owls ahead 27-20 and less than a minute to play, Temple coach Al Golden chose to run instead of taking a kneel-down that, following a punt, would have left Navy less than 20 seconds to tie. Instead, freshman running back Kee-ayre Griffin fumbled after a hard hit by linebacker Ross Pospisil; defensive captain Clint Sovie returned the loose ball 42 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds left.

“I’m shocked,” fullback Eric Kettani said. “When Clint picked up the ball and took it to the house, everybody was running down the sidelines and jumping around. And I’m standing there like, ‘Did he just do that?’”

After the game, Golden stood by his decision.

“Certainly, we could have kneeled down, but you give it to a running back, tell him to put two hands on it and that’s what running backs do - carry the ball,” he said. “We thought that would have taken the clock down to 18 or 19 seconds and then you punt it away.”

Navy’s improbable comeback made up for what had been a flat, mistake-prone effort through three quarters. The Mids were pedestrian on offense, producing just six plays of more than 20 yards. Little mistakes - missed blocks, untimely penalties - as well as a solid effort from the Temple defensive front wound up stalling Navy’s triple-option.

Navy also overcame two blocked kicks - a field goal just before halftime and an extra point after its second fourth-quarter touchdown.

“To come back and know that your team can fight through it, it’s something that coaches and players look for in their teammates and in their players,” Sovie said.

Temple (3-6) seemed to have the game in hand after taking a 27-7 lead with 13:41 left to play before the Mids charged back with three touchdowns. Dobbs first led Navy on a 78-yard scoring drive that he capped with a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver T.J. Thiel.

After a Temple punt, Kettani finished a 64-yard drive with a 1-yard score off a pitch from Dobbs. Still, Temple had a chance to leave with the win without the costly turnover.

“I didn’t know whether or not he was down, so I just picked the ball up and started running,” Sovie said. “I was just as shocked as everybody else.”

Instead of mourning missed opportunities, Navy enters its second open week in high spirits with its annual game against Notre Dame coming Nov. 15.

“This game was all about our seniors and all for them,” Pospisil said. “You’d like to see us come out and win a big blowout win, but I think this game more so honored our seniors and showed the leadership and the heart and character, really what our whole team is about. I don’t think you could have picked a better scenario.”

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