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2014 Poinsettia Bowl Recap: Navy Squeaks By San Diego State 17-16

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In a game that wasn't pretty early on, and then was even less pretty towards the end, Navy managed to make the least damaging mistakes and snag their eighth win.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If I happened to be a fan of Navy instead of Army, I would not be proud of this win. I'm not sure that I could really accept victory in a game where my team didn't really win as much as stand by while the opposing team lost.

San Diego State quarterback Quinn Kaehler looked shaky early, as his third misfire in his first four pass attempts almost hit the umpire before landing in the hands of Navy linebacker Daniel Gonzales instead of his intended receiver. Navy methodically turned that into yet another Keenan Reynolds touchdown, including a fourth down conversion, for an early 7-0 lead.

Thanks in part to a great ensuing kick return, the Aztecs and Donnell Pumphrey would respond quickly, and that was followed in short order by Keenan Reynolds fumble, which was Navy's first turnover. (Foreshadowing!)  Not a lot else happened in the first half, as both teams kept running the ball but only SDSU's two field goals went on the board for a 13-7 halftime lead.

Navy opened the second half at their own eight yard line, but proceeded to use up six and a half minutes while plowing their way straight to the end zone for a 14-13 lead, including a pair of 20 yard runs from Chris Swain. The beginning of the fourth quarter, however, is where this game started to crumble.

We return from commercial break with SDSU facing third and long (16 to be exact) from their own 34. Given that SDSU was 0-for-5 on third and five or longer and Kaehler hadn't completed a pass longer than five yards since early in the second quarter, you'd be shocked to learn that another pass fell incomplete and the Aztecs were forced to punt.

Two plays later, Ryan Williams-Jenkins never got the handoff and SDSU took over possession on on Navy's 41 yard line. Three plays after that, Kaehler sailed another throw into the arms of another Navy defender for his second interception. Four plays after that, a bad snap led to another fumble. All of a sudden these two teams had combined to turn the ball over three times in nine plays.

At this point, I don't think anybody deserved to win. But then... oh my San Diego State proved me wrong. The running game, which had carried them tonight just like every other game this season, brought them all the way down to the cusp of the red zone. At this point, a combination of incompletions and a holding penalty meant that despite a Kaehler pass of a dozen yards, they still faced fourth and five from the Navy 12 yard line.

No sweat, because they would just kick a chip shot field goal to push their lead to 19-14. This would be logical, since Navy's offense hadn't done much but fumble since their half-opening touchdown, so forcing them into a situation where a field goal was insufficient would be a good call. Also, Donny Hageman is a pretty darn good kicker.

Except that the Aztecs went for it instead. Not only did they go for it, they called a pass play. Let me explain to you how horrible this is. Your star running back is, to this point in the game, averaging just over five yards per carry. Your quarterback, for a variety of reasons, is 7-for-20 passing the ball, and his last two pass attempts were a shovel pass that said running back turned into a 12 yard gain, and a rainbow that injured a security guard in the stands. A field goal isn't a bad choice; barring that, if you need five yards, your running back is averaging five yards, and your passing game is garbage, run the damn ball.

After all that plus a fumble by Pumphrey that Navy managed to get only a field goal out of, the Aztecs were left with a minute and 27 seconds to get themselves a field goal of their own. Kaehler hit another checkdown to Pumphrey, and after another incompletion he finally connected with Eric Judge for a massive 32 yard gain to the Navy 37 yard line. After yet another shovel pass to Pumphrey, the Aztecs ran a couple more plays to get as short a field goal as possible.

Unfortunately, Hageman pushed his 34 yard attempt wide to the right, giving the Midshipmen a victory in only the strictest of sense.

I think it tells you what you need to know that, heading into that final SDSU drive, Navy was on pace to be the second team all season to hold the Aztecs to less than 300 yards of offense. As it was, they were still the fourth team to keep that number under 350, and the other three teams to do so beat SDSU by an average score of 27-11. This marked the third time this season that they have turned the ball over at least three times, and you just can't get to the next level running an option-heavy offense unless you can avoid games like this entirely.

Here's to next season, starting with a home game against Colgate.