By JOHN TRANCHINA, Associated Press
TULSA (AP) — Navy has made a habit of utilizing a blistering running game and it was on full display again on Saturday.
Zach Abey rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries, while also throwing for 90 yards, to help unbeaten Navy overcome an early 14-0 deficit to claim a 31-21 victory over Tulsa.
Malcolm Perry gained a career-high 104 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushes, while also adding 53 yards on two receptions, and Chris High ran for 89 yards on 13 carries as Navy (4-0, 3-0 The American) continued to display a devastating ground game. The Midshipmen rolled up 511 yards of total offense, 421 rushing.
Navy is 4-0 for the second time in the last three seasons and just the third time in the last 38 years.
“That was a tough, hard-fought win. I’m just proud of our guys,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “It started off ugly and things looked bleak for us, but our resilient kids continued to battle. I’m proud of how our guys fought. We had some tough, grind-it-out yards. And Zach, when he takes care of the ball, he’s a tough player, because he’s so hard to tackle. He’s like a fullback. He’s our hammer.”
Chad President rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown, while also completing 12 of 18 passes for 115 yards and another touchdown for Tulsa (1-4, 0-1), which lost its third straight contest.
“We jump out to a good, early lead and keep battling. For me, I feel like it’s a tough loss,” said Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, whose team lost its two previous games on last-second field goals. “We’re close. Like I told the guys, we’ve got to kick that bucket over and get it done.”
The Golden Hurricane scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives, going ahead 14-0 on President’s 1-yard run with 32 seconds left in the opening quarter. The Navy defense buckled down after that, forcing Tulsa into 3-and-out on its next two possessions, and allowing just one first down the rest of the first half.
Meanwhile, the Midshipmen found their offense in the second quarter, scoring on back-to-back drives, less than four minutes apart, both on Abey runs. When Abey fell across the goal line 27 seconds before halftime, it sent the teams into the locker rooms at a 14-14 tie.
Tulsa wouldn’t score again until midway through the fourth quarter, when the game was already out of reach.
“It was a combination — I thought we possessed the ball, and the game plan was ‘stop the run,'” Niumatalolo said of the turnaround. “Besides the opening drive and the long drive (in the fourth quarter), I thought we played pretty stout on defense.”
NAVY: The Midshipmen proved once again that they are one of the nation’s premier rushing teams, as their 421 yards on the ground surpassed their season average of 393 yards per game, which ranked second in the country entering the day. They also once again dominated time of possession, 39:38 to 20:22.
TULSA: As impressive as President was rushing the ball early, gaining 110 yards in the first quarter alone, his limitations passing the ball were evident. When Navy went ahead 31-14 with 8:47 remaining, President had completed 4 of 9 passes for just 17 yards. He did engineer an impressive scoring drive immediately after that, but it turned out to be too little too late.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Down 17-14 and facing a 4th-and-1 situation on their own 30-yard-line on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Golden Hurricane opted to go for the first down instead of punting. Running back D’Angelo Brewer gained the yard necessary but Navy’s Micah Thomas knocked the ball loose, and when Tulsa’s Justin Hobbs recovered it on the 27-yard-line, the ball turned over on downs. On the very next play, Perry raced 27 yards into the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-point Midshipmen lead.
“The fourth down call, going for it right there, you know hindsight is 20/20, probably should have punted,” Montgomery said. “We don’t get it and then they score the next play, and really, that almost takes us out of the game right there.”
Brewer, who entered the day ranked third in the nation with 578 yards rushing, gained 65 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, surpassing the 3,000-yard mark for his career. Now with 643 on the season and 3,043 overall, Brewer sits fourth in TU history, 472 back of Trey Watts (2010-13).
Navy kicker Bennett Moehring finally made his first field goal of the season, booting a 24-yarder with 1:23 left in the third quarter to give the Midshipmen a 17-14 lead. He had a 26-yard attempt in the first quarter blocked by Tulsa’s Reggie Robinson II and had missed each of his two prior attempts this year. He failed to connect on a 29-yard attempt in Navy’s 42-19 victory over Florida Atlantic on Sept. 1 and then missed a 24-yarder last week in a 42-32 win over Cincinnati.
NAVY: The Midshipmen take a break from conference play to take on traditional rival Air Force at home next week.
TULSA: The Golden Hurricane go on the road to face Tulane next week.
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