ANNAPOLIS — In a game full of special-team mistakes, the final two gaffes proved the most costly.
Navy was sluggish and never able to put Kent State away but held on for a 34-31 victory yesterday before 30,316 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Golden Flashes tied the score at 24-24 with 11:41 left, but freshman tailback Jerry Flowers was flagged for excessive celebration, forcing Kent State to kick from its own 20-yard line.
The kick went out of bounds and Navy took over at midfield. The Midshipmen, coming off a last-second victory against Air Force a week earlier, marched 50 yards in four plays with quarterback Lamar Owens scoring from a yard out.
Navy kicker Joey Bullen squibbed the kickoff down the middle of the field, and after a pair of Kent State players mishandled the bouncing ball, freshman fullback Eric Kettani fell on it for the Mids. Navy (3-2) moved the ball into field goal range, and Bullen connected on a 22-yard field goal that proved to be the difference.
“It wasn’t a pretty game — that would be an understatement,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “I guess I did a poor job of getting our guys ready to play. We came out with no emotion.”
But the Mids made plenty of mistakes in the sloppy contest. Although Navy totaled 532 yards of offense and didn’t punt, it found a variety of ways to stop itself.
Owens threw an interception on the first drive for the third straight game. After another one — this time in the Kent State end zone on a ball he threw up for grabs — Johnson pulled him in favor of backup Brian Hampton.
The offense responded with a 16-play touchdown drive, and continued to click after Owens returned on the next possession.
“It wasn’t too hard to see that I wasn’t playing up to my ability,” Owens said. “It was great that Brian came in and gave us a spark.”
Bullen booted a pair of kickoffs out of bounds, and freshman Karlos Whittaker fumbled away a kickoff return. Add in a lost fumble by Owens, a missed field goal by Bullen and a botched snap near the goal line that led to three points instead of seven, and there was good reason for tempered enthusiasm at game’s end from the Mids.
It was certainly a stark contrast from last week’s jubilant postgame celebration.
“Anytime you win you should be happy,” Johnson said. “We are growing as a program because in the locker room there are a lot of guys with their heads down. They are disappointed in the way we played.”
There were some bright spots for Navy. Senior wide receiver Jason Tomlinson had five receptions for 115 yards, his second consecutive game with 100 yards receiving. Owens finished with 110 yards rushing and 169 passing.
The defense played well for parts of the game. Sophomore Greg Thrasher had nine tackles and a third-quarter interception that set up a touchdown. Senior Jeremy Chase had eight tackles and two sacks.
There was a 12-minute delay late in the fourth quarter when Kent State lineman Nate Manning was knocked unconscious after taking a blow to the head while trying to block. He was immobilized and carted off the field, but coach Doug Martin said he was moving his arms and legs.
The Golden Flashes (1-5) scored shortly after the break to cut the lead to 34-31, but the onside kick attempt failed and the Mids ran out the clock.
“We weren’t happy at all with the way we played,” Navy linebacker David Mahoney said. “We know we can play a lot better.”