Navy 54, Rutgers 21
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)—Eager to impress the five bowl scouts in attendance and determined to avoid its first losing streak in two seasons, Navy accomplished both objectives in a blowout against Rutgers.
Aaron Polanco ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, and Navy used a 40-point first half to cruise to a 54-21 victory Saturday.
Kyle Eckel rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns, and Eric Roberts also scored twice for the Midshipmen (8-2). Navy amassed 613 yards—including 357 before halftime—in effectively bouncing back from a 42-10 defeat at Tulane two weeks earlier.
“We were embarrassed at Tulane. We didn’t play well at all,” Navy linebacker David Mahoney said. “We wanted to make a statement today, that we’re a better defense than that.”
Mahoney returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown, and the Midshipmen forced three turnovers in the first half in taking a 40-7 lead.
“In the first half we pretty much did what we wanted,” Polanco said.
Navy, which could receive an invitation from the Emerald Bowl as soon as Sunday, has also generated interest from the Motor City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, the Houston Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl.
“I’d like to go to one. I think our kids deserve a chance to go to a bowl game,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “Wherever we go, I think I think our kids will be excited. I look at it as a reward for our team.”
It was the eighth consecutive home win for the Midshipmen, who finish the regular season against Army on Dec. 4 in Philadelphia.
Rutgers (4-6) was eliminated from bowl contention with its fourth straight loss. It was 54-7 before the Midshipmen reserves yielded two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“It’s very disappointing and a little embarrassing,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “I don’t think we coached very well, I don’t think we played very well. We missed a ton of tackles.”
Ryan Hart went 27-for-40 for 264 yards for Rutgers, and tight end Clark Harris had nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. But the Scarlet Knights made too many mistakes on offense and had no answer for Navy’s outstanding running game, which accumulated a season-high 476 yards on 67 attempts.
“I’m surprised at this result. I can’t say I saw this coming, not even a little bit,” Schiano said. “What happened is that we played and coached less than our best at almost every juncture.”
Rutgers’ opening possession ended with a fumble by wide receiver Willie Foster, the first turnover forced by the Navy defense in five games. The Midshipmen then moved 52 yards in nine plays, taking a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard run by Roberts.
The Knights pulled even with an 80-yard march in which Hart went 9-for-9, including a 16-yard TD pass to Harris. But Navy took the lead for good on a 20-yard touchdown run by Eckel, following a 44-yard completion from Polanco to Jason Tomlinson.
The Midshipmen went up 21-7 late in the first quarter when Mahoney picked off a sideline pass and took it into the end zone, Navy’s first interception return for a touchdown since 1999.
Schiano summoned backup quarterback Terrence Shawell for a series in the second quarter, with disastrous results. Shawell fumbled while being sacked on second down, and Navy recovered at the Rutgers 35.
Two plays later, Polanco ran in from the 1 for a 27-7 lead. Then, after a Rutgers punt, Navy moved 72 yards in a drive culminated by an 8-yard touchdown run by Frank Divis.
A 47-yard pass from Polanco to Roberts made it 40-7 two minutes before halftime, and Eckel ran for a 78-yard score on the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter.