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Navy moves into AP’s Top 25 with win over UConn

Story By Rick Wilson Pointed Magazine Staff

Photo’s By Benjamin Rogers Jr Pointed Magazine Staff Photographer

If UConn had any hope to come back Friday night against Navy, scoring before halftime seemed like a must.

The Huskies trailed by three scores late in the second quarter but had driven the ball inside the opposing 5-yard line as the clock ran down. Then running back Kevin Mensah rushed for no gain on first-and-goal, and quarterback Jack Zergiotis fired incomplete on second. On third down, Zergiotis dropped back to pass, felt pressure from the Navy defense, cocked his arm and had the ball knocked away for a fumble and a turnover.

The game was never so close again. Navy, with its tricky triple-option offense, dominated the second half on the way to a 56-10 victory at Rentschler Field.

“When you have the opportunities that we had in the first half and didn’t take advantage of, it sure makes it hard to come back,” coach Randy Edsall said. “We just didn’t play that well.”

The Huskies’ loss dropped them to 2-7 on the season and sealed the program’s ninth consecutive losing campaign. UConn has now dropped 16 consecutive games against American Athletic Conference opponents.

Navy, which ranked No. 27 in the latest AP poll, improved to 7-1 on the season and 5-1 in conference play.

As has been the case throughout most of his freshman season, Zergiotis traded off between impressive plays and misguided ones Friday. On one first-half drive, he completed a 53-yard pass downfield, then tossed a 10-yard touchdown. On the next drive, he fired into coverage for an ugly interception. On another possession, he ducked under a would-be tackler to avoid a sack and set up a UConn field goal. On the next, he threw right at a defender on fourth down, for another pick.

“It’s just about playing smart football, rather than trying to be a hero,” Zergiotis said. “There are no more excuses.”

Zergiotis finished 16 of 34 for 205 yards, with one touchdown and three turnovers. Running back Kevin Mensah, fresh off a five-touchdown performance last week, carried 26 times for 107 yards, while freshman Cam Ross led UConn receivers with six catches (for 38 yards).

On the other side of the ball, UConn struggled to contain Navy’s potent, run-heavy offense. With an array of handoffs, pitches, fakes and misdirections, the Midshipmen rushed for 408 yards and seven touchdowns.

No current players appeared for UConn the last time the Huskies faced Navy in 2016, which likely made life particularly tough against the triple option.

“Some of these kids have never seen this offense before,” Edsall said. “It’s no excuse, but it is what it is.”

Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry, a leading candidate for AAC player of the year, particularly vexed the Huskies’ defense. Perry gained 108 rushing yards and on 11 carries, including a 58-yard touchdown run early in the game on which he spun past a would-be tackler and a 2-yard score in the third quarter. He threw for 165 yards on only six pass attempts, with completions of 58, 33 and 74 yards.

“He’s very athletic and very shifty,” said UConn safety Tyler Coyle, who had 19 tackles. “He has some good speed, and that’s very difficult to contain.”

UConn never led Friday, as Perry’s long touchdown run gave the Midshipmen a 7-0 lead only three and a half minutes in the game. The Huskies responded quickly to that initial score, reaching the end zone on a 10-yard from Zergiotis to running back Art Thompkins, but Zergiotis’s three turnovers and Navy’s continued explosiveness resulted in a 28-10 Midshipmen lead at halftime.

After both teams punted to start the third quarter, Navy fullback Nelson Smith barreled 77 yards inside the UConn 5-yard line, leading to a touchdown dive by Perry. On their next drive, the Midshipmen marched down the field once again, until fullback Jamale Carothers broke free for his second touchdown of the night. Carothers would add another score early in the fourth quarter, making the score 49-10.

Navy’s eighth and final touchdown came with just over three minutes to play, on a 1-yard rush by back-up quarterback Perry Olsen.

Overall, the Midshipmen out-gained the Huskies 573-313, despite running far fewer offensive plays. UConn was only 4-of-16 on third- and fourth-down attempts and committed six penalties for 52 yards.

Navy joins fellow American members No. 17 Cincinnati, No. 19 Memphis and No. 23 SMU in the Top 25. Four ranked teams matches a high for the 7-year-old conference, which was born from the collapse of the Big East.

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