- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | When Louisiana Tech return man extraordinaire Phillip Livas brought back a punt 85 yards early in the first quarter to put his team ahead by two scores, it seemed Navy was in for a long afternoon.

But as it turned out, that would be the last highlight of the day for the Bulldogs. The Midshipmen responded to the early deficit with 32 unanswered points for a 32-14 win in their home opener at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“Especially when we’re down, the best thing about us is that we never give up,” defensive end Jabaree Tuani said. “It was the first quarter, and being down 14-0 a lot of teams might put their heads down. But we know it’s time to go now. That’s over, and we just have to turn it up.”

Tuani sparked the Mids’ turnaround with standout plays on consecutive defensive stands. The sophomore got his first career interception on Louisiana Tech’s second drive, whirling around to locate a dropped pass on a short crossing route and diving to come up with the ball. On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Tuani batted down a third-down pass.

And thus began a frustrating offensive day for the Bulldogs (0-2). After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, they didn’t advance into Navy territory until there was 3:49 left in the game and the Mids held a commanding lead. The Bulldogs’ final seven drives ended in an interception, five straight punts and a turnover on downs.

“There’s nothing that changes the ebbs and flows of the game like a turnover, and that turnover was huge,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “It allowed us to get some momentum going; the defense continued to fight and allowed our offense to get going.”

Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Tommy Spangler was familiar with the triple option from his days at Georgia Southern - where former Navy coach Paul Johnson got his head coaching start - and he had his unit prepared. The Bulldogs primarily played eight or nine defenders in the box and dominated Navy up front.

As a result, quarterback Ricky Dobbs was held to just 1.9 yards a carry. But after a slow start, the Mids produced outside the tackles. Toward the end of the first quarter, slotback Cory Finnerty took a pitch from Dobbs 16 yards around the right corner for Navy’s first touchdown.

From there, sophomore Marcus Curry took over on the ground. Curry consistently gained big yardage, finishing with 124 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

“We were thinking their outside linebackers were going to play our slotbacks, but when we came out, our slotbacks would go inside and they wouldn’t [pursue them],” Dobbs said. “They weren’t going to let me beat them, so that’s when it opened up everything for the outside guys. Our coaches started realizing that, too, and we got the ball on the edge and tried to do different things to get our playmakers the ball.”

Navy’s passing game was sluggish most of the afternoon. Dobbs was sacked twice and consistently faced pressure. And when he did have time, the Mids made miscues. Doug Furman dropped what would have been a long touchdown pass just before halftime, and then in the third quarter, the Mids had a 56-yard touchdown strike called back by a holding penalty.

Still, Dobbs finished 5-for-8 for 103 yards, just effective enough to keep Louisiana Tech’s defense off-balance as Navy (1-1) racked up 290 yards on the ground.

“Coming back like that, that was just a test of our will,” Dobbs said. “I think we wanted it more than they did.”

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