Navy ends Houston’s hopes of playing for national title

David Ginsburg
Associated Press

Annapolis, Md. — With every Navy touchdown, No. 6 Houston saw its hope of playing for the national championship become a little more distant.

After the Cougars had their quest for an unbeaten season dashed in a 46-40 loss Saturday, all they could do was shrug.

“This one hurts but we still have everything in front of us,” Houston coach Tom Herman said. “Our goal, as it is each and every year, is to win our conference championship and go to a New Year’s Six bowl game. We have an opportunity to continue that journey.”

Will Worth ran for 115 yards and threw for two touchdowns to help the Midshipmen (4-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) pull off the upset. Navy hadn’t defeated a Top 10 team since 1984, when it topped No. 2 South Carolina in Annapolis.

When it was over, streams of the Navy Brigade stormed the field to surround the players, most of them jumping for joy.

Navy won behind a precise attack that shredded the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense. Coming off a 28-14 loss to Air Force, the Midshipmen came in as a 17-point underdog.

“Sometimes you get your butt whipped and you move on,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I’m just so proud of the way our guys responded after such a difficult, heart-wrenching, gut-blowing loss last week.”

Houston committed three turnovers, gave up two points on a poor snap in punt formation and simply couldn’t find a way to stop Navy’s triple option.

“We didn’t play very well in any phase of the game and we still had a chance to win it there in the fourth quarter,” Herman said. “You’re not going to win very many games against really good teams on the road turning the ball over three times, one for a touchdown, snapping the ball over the punter’s head and letting them rush for 300 yards.”

Houston’s sloppiest performance of the season came in a driving rain. The Cougars (5-1, 2-1) gave up more points than in their previous four games combined.

Navy finished with 306 yards rushing, many of them on pitches from Worth as he sprinted laterally along the line. Houston was allowing only 42 yards on the ground per game.

“We knew last week that we didn’t play our best, and the scoreboard showed that,” Worth said.

Though the game was a sellout, thousands of fans failed to show because of the weather. Those who took their seats realized an upset was possible after first half ended tied at 20.

Navy scored three touchdowns in the third quarter — two of them on passes by Worth, the other on Josiah Powell’s 34-yard interception return — to take a 41-27 lead.

That proved to be a deficit too deep to handle for the Cougars, especially because their defense simply couldn’t find a solution for Navy’s multi-faceted attack.

Houston had won 19 of its last 20 games, including a 52-31 blowout of Navy last year. But on this day, the Cougars lost despite compiling a whopping 484 yards in offense.

Greg Ward Jr. went 32-for-50 for 359 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 94 yards and a score, but the Cougars never led after going up 20-17 in the second quarter.

His two interceptions were also a factor. Navy scored 17 points following Houston giveaways and did not commit a turnover.

“It feels terrible,” Ward said.