Navy Goes for Win, Maryland Denies It by Stuffing Ricky Dobbs at Goal Line
BALTIMORE -- The odds that the player who scored more touchdowns than any other quarterback in a single season in college football history would get stuffed at the goal line in a nail-biter of a game, not once ... or twice ... or three times ... but four times? Probably incalculable.
But the odds were in Maryland's favor on Monday afternoon in M&T Bank Stadium. So when the Terps, underdogs to their in-state brethren in a resumption of a long-dormant series, lined up against Navy and Ricky Dobbs with their backs to the goal line, the record-setting Dobbs lost, time and time again. That included the last time, with 37 seconds left, Navy trailing by three and the ball inside Maryland's 1-yard line.
Navy was sure that going for the touchdown and the victory was the safer move than trying a tying field goal. But Maryland safety Kenny Tate denied Dobbs one final time, and that locked up a 17-14 upset that bodes well for a team that went 2-10 last season and put head coach Ralph Friedgen's job in jeopardy.
It also ended Navy's hopes for an unbeaten season before it even got warmed up -- and likely torched Dobbs' Heisman Trophy hopes.
"It's something that we do all the time,'' said Dobbs, a senior whose 27 rushing touchdowns last season broke an NCAA record shared by Tim Tebow. "One yard to go, it's automatic -- it's like bread and butter for us. I had 100-percent confidence that we would have punched it in.''
Maryland (1-0) managed to shut down Dobbs and Navy (0-1) time and time again in the red zone -- and only in the red zone. The Middies' triple-option offense rolled up 412 yards and ran on 72 of 82 snaps with eight different ballcarriers, nearly doubling the Terps' time of possession. Once Navy got close, however, the results were ghastly.
Dobbs (63 yards on 29 carries) did run one touchdown in, tying the score at 14 late in the third quarter and negating Maryland's early 14-0 lead. But besides that, the Terps took a bend-but-don't-break philosophy to the extreme.
Senior Joe Buckley ricocheted a 32-yard field-goal try off the left upright in the first quarter with Navy down 7-0, and then things got ugly. On third-and-goal at the 1 with four minutes left in the first half, Dobbs got stripped by linebacker Adrian Moten, and Maryland recovered. On its next possession, Navy drove to the seven yard-line with 12 seconds left, but Dobbs tried to run after getting pressured on a designed pass play, and was stopped at the two as time expired. And on the opening possession of the second half, Dobbs was hit, again by Tate, just before crossing the goal line and fumbled again, with the Terps recovering.
"Ricky has won a ton of games for us; he's done a lot of wonderful things for us. But he makes mistakes,'' Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
On the final play at the goal line, he said he passed up a tying field goal to go for the win, adding, "I look back in hindsight now and it was a bad decision, but at the time I had faith in Ricky. He's scored like that many times before, but they kept us out.''
Dobbs took responsibility himself for not getting the ball into the end zone and by coughing it up when he did: "What we talk about around here is taking care of the football, and today I didn't do a good job at it,'' he said.
In the other locker room, though, the Maryland players and coaches -- who last season had one of the worst defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference and lost twice in the final minutes of the game -- knew almost for certain what Navy would do near the goal line, and felt sure they could stop it even though they stopped little else the Middies did.
"Seventy-five percent of the time, Ricky's going to take it, and maybe the other 25 percent will be a pitch. We knew it was Ricky time,'' Moten said.
The Terps' timely defense against Dobbs overshadowed a bizarre showing on offense: they pounded Navy on the ground in their first two possessions, gaining 134 yards and not attempting a pass on the way to their 14-0 lead 11 minutes into the game. Yet they had to sweat it out in the end as Navy went on one last long drive.
"When you're in a game like this, it's a battle of wills. It's a question of who will rise to the occasion,'' said Friedgen, who played in front of Maryland's newly hired athletic director, former Army AD Kevin Anderson, for the first time. "And that's not to say that Navy didn't rise to the occasion. They gave us everything they had.''
Navy, and Dobbs, just managed to not have enough with the goal line staring them in the face.