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Hi, everybody. My name is Karl Darden, and I'd like to welcome and thank all of you for joining us today here on Navy Sports Central. I'm your host, and this is the official podcast of the Navy Sports Nation, where we take a deeper dive into Navy sports.
In this episode, we'll finish up our look back at 20 years of triple option football at Navy by checking out two more games from the Ken Niumatalolo era that represents significant milestones in his coaching career. And we'll see how the spring sports season wrapped up, get to our Question of the Day and knock out our last Mid Watch segment for the year. So please don't go anywhere. We've got a lot of ground to cover when we come back.
All right, it is great to have you here with this as another terrific Navy sports season starts to wind down. I wanted to welcome any new listeners we might have. And if you've happened to check us out before Welcome back. And thanks for making us part of your day.
Right now all the spring sports are into their respective postseason championships. In fact, as I speak, the men's and women's track teams look well on their way to repeating as Patriot League champions. I'll have the final numbers as soon as they wrap things up in a couple of hours.
But first, I wanted to share the final count on both the Army-Navy Star competition as well as their overall record. So in the '21-'22 season, there were a total of 24 sports that made up the Star Series. Now usually it's the only time the two teams will meet but there are some exceptions. And they are men's and women's basketball, and also baseball and volleyball.
The Mids and the Black Knights play each other twice a year in those sports, so only one of those games is designated as a star game. And in theory, the two teams could actually go against each other three times if they happen to meet again in the Patriot League Tournament. That's also true for sports like lacrosse and tennis, Army & Navy play each other only once during the regular season, but there's always a chance that they can meet in tournament play. In any case, this was a record setting year for the mids. They won the Star series by a count of 20 to 4. Those 20 wins broke the old record of 17 which they also owned. And in fact, Navy had matched that number three times; the last year being back in 2012.
Now, Navy's overall record against Army this year was 27 and 9. And here's the interesting thing. The four star games or matches that Navy last this year were in volleyball, women's basketball, baseball and women's lacrosse, which by the way, was the first and women's lacrosse.
In each of those sports the mid still ended up beating the Black Knights at least once during the year. In volleyball, they actually beat them twice when they met the second time and also in the Patriot League tournament. The women's basketball team had already been in the Army earlier in the season before they dropped that star match. They just weren't able to complete the sweep. And the baseball team did manage to shut out the Black Knights in one of the three games that decided the Star Series that Army came away with. But by far, the most satisfying win had to be the women's lacrosse team's win over Army in the Patriot League Tournament just the other day. They had lost at the Black Knights for the first time ever a couple of weeks ago, 14-9. And that was no doubt disappointing. They were dominated in time of possession, basically. And Army was able to put away the win. But the Mids totally got even in the Patriot League semi-finals, they jumped out to an 8-0 lead and just destroyed the Black Knights 16-6.
So, I think this is a pretty cool stat when you think about it. In the '21-'22 sports season, Navy set a record for the most number of wins in the Star Series. And they beat Army at least once in every single sport they played. Congratulations to all the teams, and this is also a tribute to all the coaching staffs and NavyAthletics in general because they are totally dedicated to bringing the highest caliber student athletes to Annapolis. And these coaches play a huge role in the successful achievement of the physical mission at the Naval Academy. So great job to everyone involved.
Okay, the other news I wanted to get out to you guys was a final snapshot of what the Navy football depth chart looks like on defense, since the spring practices have been completed. I covered the offense back on Episode 29. So you can check that out when you get the chance. If you haven't heard it already, that is.
Anyway, I think the Navy defense is not only going to be fun to watch this year, but they are set up to be really good for a long time. I've got the depth chart right in front of me here. And if you go two deep at each position, you've got a total of 10 sophomores, eight juniors and four seniors occupying those spots. Now of course there may be some changes in August when practices start up again. But here's the point I wanted to make with respect to how things look right now. The Mids got through spring with no major injuries on defense and the depth chart shows six juniors listed at the number one position as well as three sophomores. Now for the most part, these are the same guys that were getting all that experience when the injury bug hit last year. Linebacker Colin Ramos quarterback and Mbiti Williams and free safety Rayuan Lane each got a bunch of playing time in pressure situations including that big win over Amy and they are going to be key pieces in Coach Newberry's defensive scheme this year.
As of right now,all three members the defensive line who are number one on the depth chart are juniors and their names should sound familiar. Jake Busic at defensive end, Donald Brainiard at nose tackle and Clay Cromwell, a defensive tackle, all had great games against Army last year Busic and Brainerd had four tackles apiece and really limited the Black Knights running game. While Cromwell had one and a half tackles for a loss among the three that he picked up on the day at linebacker Wll Harbour will be taking over for Diego Fagot. Harbour did a great job as well and next to him Nicholas Straw will be coming back as striker. These two players figure to make up the backbone of the Navy defense. So look for them to be in a bunch of tackles next year.
Besides Harbour, the other two juniors who are potential starters are cornerback Matthew Peters, who is taking over from Mikey McMorris, and also Evan Gibbons at the bandit position. Gibbons had a monster game against the Black Knights coming up with six tackles, including three by himself. And he also got one pass deflection.
So that gives you a quick look at how the Navy defense is shaping up. Again, whether these guys are first or second on the depth chart isn't a huge deal. The coaching staff basically wants to make sure that they have at least two at each position who can step in and do the job. And right now, the mids have a nice blend of experienced players across all three classes. And I'm sure we'll see one or two incoming freshmen show up in the fall and have an impact also, because that just seems to be the way things work out.
All right, it looks like the Patriot League outdoor track and field championships have just wrapped up and it was another dominating performance by both the men's and women's track teams. The men finished with a final score of 333 points and you'd have to look pretty far back to find Army. They finished a distant second with 239. And by the way, there are a total of nine teams competing altogether. Out of the 22 total events, the Mids took first and 10 of them and the entire team performed at a very high level across the two day meet. But the one guy that got my attention was senior Greg Mathias. He won both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. The 10,000 was actually run first thing in the morning on Friday and then the 5,000 was the last individual race on Saturday. In both races, Matthias finished in front of Army's Garrett Goff.
The women took control of their meet early, and then they just kept adding to their lead. They won nine events and finished with a total of 281.5 points. That was more than 100 points better than army who came in with 176.
Senior Katie Halbert was one of the top point producers for the mids. She won the long jump the 100 meter hurdles and she also ran the leadoff leg of the four by 100 meter relay which Navy won with a time of 47 seconds flat. So an awesome day all around for Navy track as the men and the women dominate the Patriot League Championships and defend their titles. Okay, we are just getting started. So don't go anywhere our deep dive segment is next.
Right it is time to wrap up our look at 20 years of triple option football at Navy. And if you remember from Episode 27 and 29 we marked the occasion by taking a look at some of coach niumatalolo his most memorable games. And by the way, for those of you who may be new listeners, I didn't forget about Paul Johnson. Two months ago, I featured his six years as head coach and how he got things turned around in the Navy Sports Nation blog. And I'll post a link to that story in the show notes. Anyway, getting back to coach Niumatalolo, in Episode 27, we broke down the 35-17 win over Notre Dame in 2010. And then in Episode 29, we covered two big games in the Keenan Reynolds era. The first one was Navy-Air Force in 2012. And then there was the Army-Navy game in 2015.
Today, we're going to talk about the last two games in our series. One of them was a total shocker, especially when you consider the circumstances. And the other capped off another record setting year for the Mids as a team. So let's go out and start with a game that realistically no one could have predicted.
It took place on October 8th, 2016 when the Houston Cougars came to town to play the Mids. And I'm gonna go ahead and give you a bit of the backstory on this. And we can start by actually backing up to spring practices that year, because it was going to be the first time in nearly four years that the starting quarterback at Navy was going to be somebody other than Keenan Reynolds. But the Mids did have a lot of confidence in the guy who'd be taking over the triple option in the fall of 2016, and his name was Tago Smith. He was a senior from Fayetteville, Georgia and he had served as Reynolds' backup for the previous three years. Smith made the team his freshman year as a slotback. But the Mids were suddenly really thin at quarterback after John Hendrick was lost for the year due to an injury.
So the coaching staff approach Smith to see if he'd be willing to make the move to quarterback, and he did agree to that. So even though he had never played quarterback, he really picked things up quickly. He filled in impressively for Reynolds on a couple of occasions, both his sophomore and junior year. And he was more than ready to take over the offense when the season began. The Mids open with Fordham at home and Smith had the offense clicking right away from the very beginning. Three possessions, three touchdowns right out of the gate and they were up 21-10 as the first quarter was coming to an end. The Mids had the ball and they were driving for a fourth consecutive score when Smith took the snap and went around left and for a 22 yard run.
But that's when everything just came apart. I was I've watched that play a bunch of times. And what it looked like to me was that as he was running down the field, Chris High was was blocking for him. And Smith ended up catching up to him. And it just looked to me from the angles that I could see that Smith's right leg came into contact with the left side of his body. And it looks like it just caused his right foot to land a little bit awkwardly, because he went down in a heap, and you could tell that he just was not getting up. And sure enough, they took him out of the game, and later on, it was diagnosed as an ACL tear.
So that was a really crushing loss for the team. I mean, you got a really solid number one quarterback in there and one quarter into the new season, he's done for the year. So I think the thing that made it even tougher for me and all the other Navy fans as well as the Navy players, for sure, because Smith had the respect of that entire locker room is that, you know, he came and he sacrificed, you know, a lot of playing time, just to be Keenan Reynolds backup.
I mean, like I mentioned, he came to Navy as a slot back and he was really, really good. So it was very tough to see him go down like that. Tago Smith's backup was Will Worth, who was a senior. The only time he'd really spent on the field was actually holding for extra points and also field goals. So not a lot of time. But the added bonus was that he spent basically three years learning the system and had the complete confidence of the coaching staff, especially Coach Jasper, so it was his number that came up and he was ready to deliver.
The offense never really skipped a beat with with Worth under center, he ended up leading the team to a 52-16 win. And from there the the Mids just had to kind of recalibrate themselves and get accustomed to the fact that Tago Smith was done for the year and Will Worth was going to be the quarterback for the duration, you know, barring any kind of serious injury to him also. Worth had a completely different style than either Reynolds or Smith. He didn't have that breakaway speed. But he was a really tough inside runner, and he made good decisions with the football, and that's what really counts in the triple option, as we all know.
Still, it did take them at some time to adjust to the difference in styles. They did scratch out a couple of wins against Connecticut and Tulane; had to come from behind in both of those. And in fact against the Huskies. They blew at 21 point lead and had to come back and win in the last three minutes. But they weren't quite where they needed to be just yet. That was gonna take a little bit more time. And unfortunately, they didn't have that kind of luxury because Air Force was next up on the slate, and that's when they totally got exposed. The Falcons beat them 28 to 14 and Colorado Springs. And the game wasn't even really that close. Air Force was up 20-0 and then then again of 28-7 with just about 10 seconds ago when the Mids tacked on an extra touchdown to make the final score 28-14.
But yeah, it was a really really tough outing for the mids that day. And even though they were 3-1, it was a kind of a shaky 3-1 because they they beat Fordham. Okay, I get it. That was an FCS opponent. And then they hung on to win two games against teams that were you know, on paper, they were much better than. And we just mentioned the Air Force game.
So now the team is coming home, and they still had a pretty good record but confidence-wise, I think it's safe to say that they were definitely in the hurt locker after that thumping they took out in Colorado Springs. And as if things couldn't get any worse. The the next opponent on the schedule was the #6 ranked Houston Cougars.
Now, it was a home game, which which I guess always helps. But Houston was really, really tough. They started the year with a huge win over #3 ranked Oklahoma. And then they followed that up with four more including one against a pretty good Cincinnati team. The Cougars were averaging 44 points a game and it just didn't seem like any team could stop that spread offensive they were running. And at the time, Houston also led the nation in rushing defense. But that was a little bit misleading because most of the teams they played also had a spread offense. So basically, they were dealing with teams that were passing the ball 80% of the time.
The Cougars were definitely gonna find out how good they were at defending the run when when they played the Mids in Annapolis. It was shaping up to be a really interesting game. Houston was coming into it with a5-0 record, and they were really focused on being the first team from outside the Power 5 to snag a College Football Playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Mids were coming in on the heels of a really painful loss to Air Force and not looking super confident. So the fact is they had to they had to shake it off and put that game behind them really quickly because they only had one week to prepare. And to walk out there against a team like the Cougars not ready to play was just a recipe for disaster.
So that pretty much sets the table for you. And as most of you who've been following the Mids for any period of time know that Navy won that game 46-40 and they looked like a completely different team compared to the week before.
The Mids came in as 17point underdogs and the game was played in a steady rain. But it didn't stop it from just turning into track meet because both offenses just ran up and down the field like crazy and it was the defenses that we're just struggling to keep up. So after Navy punted on their first possession, Houston scored like in five plays, it didn't take them any time at all. Now they're up seven zip. But that lead didn't last very long because the Dishan Romine took the kickoff and ran it back 85 yards before getting hauled down at the 12. And then from there, Chris High took it in capping off what was probably one of the Mid shortest drives ever. In terms of time, it was 18 seconds long. So the rest of the first half pretty much went the same way. The score was tied at 20 when both teams headed into the locker room. And based on how the game was going, it was pretty clear that the Navy defense needed to figure out a way to stop Houston on at least one drive.
Will Worth was running the offense extremely well. The Cougars couldn't stop him either. But they were going to get the ball first to open the second half. And if things tracked like they did in the first two quarters, it wasn't going to take very long for Houston to jump out to a 27-20 lead. Greg Ward was not having any problems at all moving the ball against the Navy defense. He did throw an interception right towards the end of the second quarter that allowed the mids to tie the game with a field goal. But other than that, you know, he was he was playing pretty well. So for the Mids to even have a chance they would have to catch some kind of a break.
And lucky for them they caught not one, but two. So here's what happened. In the third quarter Ward, went back to pass. I think it was like a 3rd & 6, and he was sacked by Navy's Dylan Fisher. Ball pops out and next thing you know, Patrick Forestall's recovering at the Houston 41 yard line. From there, Will Worth made the most of the opportunity. On the 6th play of the drive, he hits slotback Darryl Bonner with a 17 yard touchdown pass, and that put Navy up 27 to 20.
Then on the very next drive, Ward under threw a receiver and Josiah Powell, who by the way had had zero interceptions his entire career came up with his second one of the game. And this one he ran all the way back for a touchdown. So just in a blink of an eye, the Mids went from a 20-20 tied to being up 34 to 20.
On Houston's next possession, Greg Ward led them on an 81 yard drive, and he capped that off with an 8 yard TD run. Now the score is 34 to 27. The Mids got the ball back and less than four minutes later they score again, when Will Worth hit. Brandon Colon on a 34 yard touchdown pass that made the score 41-27.
And then Houston gets the ball back and heading into the fourth quarter they score again. But they missed the point after so now it's an eight point difference. It's 41-33. And when the Mids got the ball back on their next possession, they drove it all the way down to the Houston 16 yard line. And they had a fourth down but decided not to kick the field goal. They went ahead and tried to go for it and just basically put the game out of reach. But they got stopped and now the Cougars had a chance to close the gap even more by, you know, taking the ball back down the field and scoring again.
Luckily, that didn't happen. The Mids were able to hold them deep in their territory and caught another big break when Houston was lining up to punt and the center just snapped the ball over the punters head. So that gave the Mids a safety and that made the score 43-33. Then Navy got the ball back on the free kick and took it down the field again to score a field goal, which put them up 46 to 33.
Houston scored one more time to make the score of 46 to 40. But that's as close as they got. And when time ran out and the game was over. The entire brigade just went absolutely crazy. I mean, it's been a long time since I've seen something like that. Houston was the highest ranked opponent Navy defeated in over 30 years. So that was pretty amazing.
The Mids got this win because of their opportunistic defense. And basically they played mistake free on offense. They didn't turn the ball over once, and I think they were only penalized once for five yards. What it basically boiled down to was points off turnovers. The Cougars turned the ball over three times and Navy converted those into 17 points. And you could basically call the safety a turnover as well because for all intents and purposes, it gave the Mids two points and the ball and then on that drive. The offense tacked on that extra field goal. So 22 of the mids 46 points were the direct result of them cashing in on Houston mistakes.
It was a total team win. Now here's why this game made my list. Since taking over at Navy, Coach Niumatalolo has gotten really good at knocking off top 25 ranked teams. In 2008, the Mids beat a 17th ranked Wake Forest team. And then the next year they knocked off 21 ranked Notre Dame. And then in 2015, they went into Memphis and took down to number 13 ranked tigers. And with this win over the number six ranked Cougars. Navy had beaten their highest ranked opponents since they took out #2 ranked South Carolina way back in 1984.
So, it's definitely true that Paul Johnson was responsible for raising the football program from the ashes back in 2002. But there's no question that Ken Niumatalolo has put it on an even more positive trajectory. And that was made pretty clear with that big win over Houston.
Okay, so far the four Navy wins we've covered under coaching and Niumatalolo were over Notre Dame, Air Force, Army and number #6 ranked Houston. So now it only makes sense that we finish things up by taking a look at a bowl game, and we don't have to go very far back for this one. I ended up picking the 2019 Liberty Bowl between Navy and Kansas State under Coach Niumatalolo, the Mids were five and five in bowl games leading up to this one. And the most unexpected one to date was the 35-13 upset of Missouri in the 2009 Texas bowl. Now, more recently, the Mids had beaten Pittsburgh back in 2015 in that Military Bowl game, which is kind of cool because they played that one right there in Annapolis. So that gave them 11 wins for the year. And now in 2019, they had a chance to match that number if they could figure out some way to beat Kansas State.
The Mids came into the game with the nation's number one rushing attack by a huge margin. And to complement that they had a defense that had confused the heck out of their opponents all season long. Meanwhile, the Wildcats finished the regular season at eight and four. Conference-wise they were about middle of the pack in the Big 12. But they also had the distinction of being the only team in the country to beat one of the College Football Playoff semi-finalists. That past October, they had taken out #5 ranked Oklahoma 48-41. And that was probably their best offensive showing of the year. But the Wildcats also prefer to use the running game to control the pace. So this Liberty Bowl game had all the makings of a really hard fought contest and it totally lived up to its billing.
Alright, so Navy you won the game 20-17. And basically, it was a defense that was the difference maker in this one. The Mids limited the Wildcats to less than half of their average total yardage for the game. Kansas State's first touchdown actually came on a 66 yard punt return, and that did give them a momentary 7-3 lead. But then Malcolm Perry found Keoni-Kordell Makekau for 27 yard TD pass to go right back on top. And here's what the neat thing was about this throw. It was probably the best example . . . maybe maybe the second best example of how much period improved as a passer over the last couple of years. He dropped it right in between two defenders right at the goal line. And to his credit Makekau did a great job of hanging on to the ball because he got absolutely rocked by the Kansas State safety as soon as he caught it. The Wildcats did tie the score at 10 going into the half, but their offense could not generate any kind of a sustained drive to get into the end zone. Coach Newberry had brought pressure from every possible angle. And the Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson was completely frustrated. In fact, the offense was held to negative yardage in the third quarter on only one possession. Navy scored on their first possession of the second half by driving 75 yards in seven plays to take the lead. The clincher was a perfectly executed reverse to chance Warren who cruised into the end zone from 20 yards out and nobody even came within five yards of touching him. The Mids did carry that lead into the fourth quarter and then Thompson was able to start getting the Kansas State offense going. He completed a couple of big passes including a 42 yarder to get them down to the Navy six. And then he scored from a yard out two plays later.
Now with the game tied at 17, the Mids had a chance to close things out on their own terms. They moved the ball down to the Kansas State 46 yard line before facing a 4th and 3 with less than a minute to go. And that's when Coach Jasper dialed up a slot back option pass at just the right time. The Kansas State safeties had done a great job supporting the run all game long. And this time, Jasper took advantage of it because he called the play where Perry lateralled to CJ Williams. And you could see that Williams looked like he was . . . he did a great job selling the run because that brought the safety up. And then Chance Warren just went running right past him and Williams hit him with a perfectly thrown pass. Warren took it down to the five yard line. And Navy was right on the doorstep. Now they were out of timeouts, so they come up really quickly and spike the ball to stop the clock. But Perry actually fumbled the snap and he had to fall on it quickly. And then they spiked it with five seconds left. From their Navy freshmen field goal kicker Bijan Nichols came in to put the game away. And he had already hit on a couple of big kicks during the year including one against Tulane that I was actually there for because it happened to be the same weekend as our 35 year reunion. Anyway, the Wildcats tried to freeze him a few times, but it didn't matter. He came in and calmly kicked a 23 yard field goal to give Navy a really hard fought 20-17 win.
All right, so here's why this game made my list. It was a knock down drag out fight from the very beginning between two what I consider to be pretty evenly matched teams. In fact, I give this bowl game a slightly higher rating than Navy's upset win over Missouri, because I thought Kansas State was a better team than the Tigers. Now, if the Mids had played that Missouri team in 2009 with their 2019 defense, I think they would have smoked them by about 40 points. So it was a great way to cap off another record setting year. Navy had posted two 11 win seasons in four years and they did it by beating a quality opponent from a Power 5 conference in their bowl game. And of course, a win like that is always worth its weight in gold on the recruiting trail as well.
So those are the five games I selected. I'd actually be pretty curious to hear if you guys have any other games that you'd like to add to that list. And now that we've looked at them, I want to take some time to examine some of the reasons why a coach named Martha Lola has been such a good fit for Navy and why we're so lucky to have him so stick with us. We'll be right back.
All right, welcome back to Navy Sports Central . . . Karl Darden here with you. And now that we've discussed some of the games that have helped define coach Niumatalolo's career at Navy, I wanted to spend some time talking about not only his place with respect to the football program, but with the Naval Academy as a whole.
After 14 plus years and over 100 wins, I think that just about every Navy fan will agree that coach Niumatalolo being here at the Academy is a pretty good match. And here are three reasons why I think that's the case. First, the guy is 100% accountable. I sometimes hear other coaches toss their players under a bus after a loss when they're pressed by reporters in a postgame press conference. You know, a number of times in fact, I've seen Brian Kelly do it more than once after a Notre Dame loss. Coach Niumatalolo would never do that in a million years. Instead, he'd just say that he and his coaching staff should have done a better job making sure his team was prepared. He never makes any excuses after a Navy loss, and he takes full responsibility while doing his best to shield his players from outside criticism.
But don't get me wrong. Rest assured that at the following week's practices, the necessary coaching is taking place to make sure that those players are going to be ready the next time. Now on the flip side, Niumatalolo routinely deflects all credit to his players after a win. There's been a bunch of times where I've heard him say, "Hey, I don't play a single down, I'm just a guy on the sidelines." And this kind of approach really helps reduce distractions for his players. And it's especially true at a service academy. It's often been said that the easiest thing that Navy players have to do is play football. So the last thing they need is a distraction in that department and Coach Niumatalolo's practice of acting as a shield eliminates this issue.
So that's the first reason . . . he's 100% accountable. Reason number two is that he totally gets it. And by that I mean that Coach Niumatalolo understands the role that football plays in the physical mission of the Academy, and the development of its players as future Navy and Marine Corps officers. Now in the past, there have been coaches at the Naval Academy across all sports who've had difficulty dealing with all the academic and professional demands placed on the athletes. Eventually, it could wind up causing some friction between the coach and the administration. And you know, that's just not a good thing. They might be willing to look the other way if the team is winning. But if not, I'm telling you, you better stand by.
And here's a pretty good example, Wayne Erdelatz was the Navy football coach in the 1950s, who was largely credited with rebuilding the program after WWII. He was an excellent coach. And unfortunately, he had the ego to match. Erdelatz battled his athletic directors as well as the administration constantly when it came to the control he had over the program. Elliot Laughlin was the athletic director from '54 to '57. And he went back and forth with the Navy coach all the time. TC Cameron wrote a book about five years ago called Navy football return to glory. And it was basically a history of the program from about just after WWII. And Cameron wrote in his book that Laughlin went so far as to say that Erdelatz wanted the football team to be an entity outside the brigade. So he neither bought into the Naval Academy tradition nor its mission by the end of the '58 football season, Erdelatz had pretty much worn out his welcome and Navy sent him packing.
So it's absolutely critical that coaches understand and can adapt their coaching style to the Naval Academy environment. And this is one area where Coach Ken totally gets it. There's no doubt that he's as tough a competitor as there is. But he also understands that his players are being trained to serve a higher purpose, and he has embraced that. I've seen him frequently reference that fact at his press conferences, saying he feels privileged to be a part of it all. And recognizing where football fits into the big picture has helped Niumatalolo work effectively with both Chet Gladchuk and the administration. So the key thing is to make sure that the Naval Academy's mission is being met. While the football program continues to move forward. And Caoch Niumatalolo has been successful in doing that.
Now finally, the third reason that coach Niumatalolo is such a good fit here is that plain and simple . . . He just loves the Naval Academy. Now earlier I had mentioned that he had come close to leaving Navy for BYU. That was towards the end of the 2015 season. And that was because the job in Provo came open after Bronco Mendenhall decided to take the job at Virginia.
So when I heard that news, I basically broke out into a cold sweat because I thought he was gone. BYU was the one job I figured would pull Coach Ken away from Annapolis. When the Cougars announced that he was a top candidate, Navy fans began to prepare for the very real possibility that he could be moving on. There was no two ways about it. And coach Ken practically said as much when he addressed his players after their win over Army. It seemed like it was a perfect job for him. His son played linebacker for the Cougars, and you know, if you're a coach who wouldn't want the opportunity to coach their son in college? But something happened when he went out to meet with BYU in Provo, the day after the Army Navy game. And then Monday came and went with no announcement. So that's when I started to figure something was up. And sure enough on Tuesday, Coach Niumatalolo announced that he would be staying at Navy. No doubt that Gladchuk reworked his contract to some degree as much as he could. It wasn't likely that he could match the dollars BYU was willing to pay. But whatever he did was enough. And at the end of the day, it came down to the fact that coach Ken just loved being at the Naval Academy. When you add in his time as an assistant, he spent nearly 20 years of his life in Annapolis. His kids had grown up there and he loved coaching his players. He understood the important role he played in their development. And when push came to shove, he just couldn't walk away from that. So those are my three reasons why I think Coach Numata Lolo is such a good fit for Navy.
And I did want to leave you guys with one final thought. All right? . . . There have been 37 football coaches, including one with interim status at the Naval Academy prior to Coach Ken being hired on on the eighth of December 2007. A handful of those coaches have been very good, most have been a level or two below that depending on who you're talking about. But regardless of how good a coach they were, I think the majority of them will always be viewed as just that, you know, someone who coached the Naval Academy football team at some point in time.
And certainly there are some exceptions. George Welsh could be one of them. He actually played quarterback for Erdelatz and led them into a Sugar Bowl win back in the 50s. And it was his career wins record that Niumatalolo broke in 2014. But I was at the Academy for Coach Welsh's last three years there. And I never really got the sense that he was anything more than a football coach. Again, that's just my perspective . . . those who played for him might feel a little bit differently. And I would be curious to get those opinions if, if any of you out there did play for Coach Welsh. Now I get a completely different vibe from Coach Niumatalolo okay, just like any coach out there, he knows how to get after his players when the situation calls for it. But there's no doubting how much he cares about them. I'm going back to when Tago Smith went down with that season ending ACL injury in 2016. Coach Ken was really really devastated. He was the one who asked Smith the move from slotback to quarterback in 2014, because they had no depth at the position. And Smith was happy to do that . . . even though he had a real future at slotback. He made that change for the good of the team. And like I mentioned before, he proved to be an excellent backup. He ran the option smoothly on those few occasions when Keenan Reynolds was injured. And except for the fact that there were different numbers. It was tough to tell the two of them apart just by looking at their playing styles.
Coach Ken and Coach Jasper did have some conversations about using Smith at slot back. But you know, in order to protect him, they decided to go against it because they didn't want to risk him getting hurt. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. And Coach Ken felt just awful about it. I remember seeing the press conference after the Fordham game. And it was really tough for him to get through that one. You could tell that he really took what happened very personally. By keeping Smith off the field when he could have contributed at another position, Niumatlolo felt that he might have shortchanged the talented senior on his playing career.
I think that's a pretty harsh self assessment, but it tells you who he is as a coach. There is no question that Niumatalolo genuinely cares about all of his players. And if you have any doubt about that, all you got to do is just watch how emotional he gets when he's talking to them on senior day or after a big win against either Army or Air Force. And when Coach Ken got his 100th victory with that win over temple in 2020. He received a ton of congratulatory messages from his former players and that speaks volumes about his impact as a coach. But Niumatalo has also played a key role in developing these men as leaders. Not everyone who's coached at Navy can say that. They were at Annapolis to coach a football team and that's basically it. Their influence didn't really extend any further than the facilities are Ricketts Hall. And you know, Ken Niumatalolo's reach goes far beyond that.
Bill Wagner, who writes for the capital Gazette interviewed Danny O'Rourke, who was one of Ken's assistant coaches. This was a couple of years ago and O'Rourke shared that Niumatalolo success is basically rooted in the genuine love the yes for as players and as coaches. He went on to say that, and this is a quote, "Coach Niumatalol is a phenomenal leader, a great motivator, and a man of the highest character. He's changed the lives of a lot of men who have gone on to become amazing leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps."
And to tell you the truth, I don't think I could have said it any better than that. And this is why I believe that Ken Niumatalolo is more than just a football coach. The influence he's had on his players beyond football truly shows how committed he is to the Naval Academy's overall mission. You know, I've heard Ken Niumatalolo say many times how blessed he is to be the head coach at the Naval Academy. But when you think about how much impact he's had in developing some of our future leaders, I wonder if we Navy fans really understand just how fortunate the academy is to have him. Okay, it is time for a short break. This is Karl Darden and you're listening to Navy Sports Central
All right. Thanks for staying with us, everyone. We're going to finish things up with our question of the day and MedWatch segments. I'm actually going to cover two questions today. The first one is from our last episode when we had our conversation with Mary McElroy. And here's the question it was, which one of these changes would you like to see implemented in men's college basketball in the next few years?
And the choices were going from two 20 minute halves to four 10 minute quarters. Second one was shooting two free throws after the sixth team foul. Next was widening the key from 12 to 16 feet. And finally, the last choice was advancing the ball after a timeout in the last two minutes of the game. So it turns out that most of you liked the idea of eliminating the one and one after the 6th team foul and going straight to two free throws. There were eight people that went with that choice. I actually like the way things are set up now. Teams shoot one and one starting on the 7th team foul, and then they go to the double bonus on the 10th one. Now in a tight game, I don't know that I'd be that big a fan of a player going to the line to shoot two free throws on something like a reach in foul or blocking foul unless it was a team's 10th one. Right now, everything follows a nice progression with respect to non-shooting fouls, until the seventh team found the balls is taken out of bounds. Then for fouls seven through nine, that player who was foul shoots one and one. And of course on a 10 foul, the player gets two shots.
If you eliminate the one on one, in some ways that actually helps a team that doesn't shoot free throws that well, because for the seventh, eighth and ninth fouls, they'll actually get a second shot, even if they missed the first one. So that's my reasoning on that. Okay, moving on. Widening the key from 12 to 16 feet got five votes. I really like watching players operate in space. And these days, the athletes are just so big, things can get super crowded there in the paint. So I think having the key at 16 feet like in the NBA would help players adjust to the pro game just a little bit faster.
Advancing the ball after a timeout in the last few minutes of the game got five votes also. This would be following a made basket by the way, not just any old timeout. And it would definitely make the game more exciting because it would improve the odds of a last second shot going in. So I don't have any problem with this change if that's the way the NCAA wanted to go. And finally, I guess most people are okay with staying with the two 20 minute halves because nobody voted to change that. I'm fine with it also. There are a lot of subtle differences that come with going to four 10 minute quarters, not the least of which has to do with how you manage your timeouts and how you decide on your team foul strategy. But for now I'm good with the way things are. It doesn't make any difference to me one way or the other. All right.
Now let's get to the second question. It was from Episode 28. And I'd asked which spring sports teams do you think will win the Patriot League championship this year and you can choose up to three teams. The choices were men's and women's lacrosse men's and women's tennis and men's and women's outdoor track. So most of you went with men's lacrosse, they got 17 votes, and the team had a pretty decent year considering how young they are especially on defense. And that win over Army and overtime was was a classic but unfortunately, they weren't able to beat Lehigh to advance the Patriot League semi finals. But look for them to go deeper next year because they have a ton of key players coming back. The women's lacrosse team got 12 votes, and they made it to the championship game against Loyola before coming up short on Saturday. It was a tough, tough game. But the Greyhounds are just so hard to beat. The good news is that Coach Timchall has a strong core of players returning next year. So the Mids should be right there again in 2023.
Women's outdoor track got nine votes while the men's team had six. Those were two of the three teams that I had picked also. So congratulations to those of you who got those two, right. And finally, women's tennis got six votes while the men got five. The women's team lost in the semi finals to Army and then the Black Knights went on to upset Boston University while the men's team ended up playing Army for the championship and beat them 4-1 just like they did a few weeks ago.
So those are your three Patriot League champions in the spring men's and women's outdoor track and also men's tennis. And by the way, the women's rowing team will have a chance to add to that total this coming weekend when they defend their title up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
All right now it's time for today's question. And for this one, we'll go back to Navy's triple option. In 2021, the midst finished ninth in the country with an average of 225 and a half rushing yards per game. How many rushing yards do you think they will average this season? So your choices are going to be 225 yards to 250 , 250 to 275 , 275 yards to 300 and then over 300 yards. So go ahead and give that some thought. I will post a question on the Navy sports Nation group Facebook page by the end of the day. And you can answer there. If you're not part of the group. Please consider joining because it's always great to have more Navy fans jump on board. Right now we have over 700 members and you know we're still growing so we'd be happy to have you join us.
Okay, we're gonna wrap things up with our Mid Watch segment and this will be our last one until the fall sports season kicks off. So let's see how Regan Roelofs and Pat Skalniak finished out their respective seasons. As you heard earlier, the women's lacrosse team came up short against Loyola in the Patriot League Championship. The final score night game was 15-8. The Mids got off to a slow start and were behind 5-1 after the first quarter, and from there that just couldn't quite catch up.
Roelofs had two goals and when seven draws in her final game as a mid for the year, she wound up with a team leading 53 goals, and 18 assists for a total of 71 points. Roelofs also won 123 Draw controls, which was number one on the team and second in the Patriot League. And one last thing. Roelofs was named to the all Patriot League first team and to the academic all Patriot League team as well. And her major is operations research.
Now, Pat Skalniak finished the year as the team's leading point producer with 48. He was first in goals with 28 and had 20 assists which a second on the team one behind Nick Cole. Skalniak had hat trick in that big upset over Army and he followed that up with another three goals and an assist against Lehigh in the Patriot League quarterfinals. But it wasn't enough to get by the Leopards. Skalniak is only a junior, so he'll be returning for his final season next spring. And the men's will have quite a bit of offensive firepower returning, so don't be surprised to see them make another serious push for the Patriot League title in 2023.
That's gonna do it for this edition of Navy Sports Central. Thank you all so much for joining us. Now if you like what you've heard, be sure to follow us wherever you get your podcasts. And remember to spread the word to all the other Navy fans out there. We have been getting a great response to our question of the day. So if you want to jump in on that, just go to the Navy Sports Nation group Facebook page, I will go ahead and pin it to the top so you won't miss it. And just a quick reminder, the views expressed on Navy Sports Central are my own and do not reflect those of the US Naval Academy or navy athletics. By the way the music used and Navy Sports Central comes to you courtesy of Audio Jungle. This is a great site for purchasing the rights to use music from thousands of artists around the world. And those we featured in the podcast will be credited in our show notes. Talk to you soon everybody. Until next time, this is Karl Darden . . . Go Navy!! Beat Army!!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai