By BILL WAGNERCAPITAL GAZETTE |DEC 17, 2021 AT 8:00 AM
Navy football coach Niumatalolo told the media Tuesday that his team’s victory over Army paid immediate dividends on the recruiting front. Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period and the Midshipmen picked up some prospects because of the big win, he said.
“We’ve already flipped some guys that were thinking about another place,” said Niumatalolo said, who was referring to Army. “Some other guys that weren’t really sure … it’s already paid dividends.”
Niumatalolo said most of the Navy football recruits will make the decision official during the early signing period, which ends Friday. Civilian schools save some scholarships for the purpose of picking up veteran players through the transfer portal, but that is not a consideration for the Midshipmen, who have 21 commitments in the Class of 2022.
“Most kids are signing during the early date. They just want it over with,” Niumatalolo said.
Air Force coaches are on the road recruiting during the two weeks before the Army-Navy game, which is a distinct advantage. However, Niumatalolo believe the publicity generated by Army-Navy being the only college football game played the second Saturday of December is far more valuable.
Navy football was highlighted in several ways during the CBS broadcast with poignant features on two former players — Bryce McDonald and David Forney.
McDonald, a retired Marine Corps officer, almost lost his leg when the Humvee he was riding in was destroyed by an improvised explosive device. Forney died of a heart malfunction in his Bancroft Hall dormitory room after being named first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2019.
There was also a “Day in the Life of Ken Niumatalolo” segment in which reporter Gene Wojciechowski and a camera crew shadowed the 14th-year head coach through a typical day of preparing for Army.
“We’re able to get into a lot more homes because of that game. [Recruits] were able to see first-hand what we are all about as a program,” Niumatalolo said.
Meanwhile, Niumatalolo announced this week that Danny Payne has joined the program as Director of Recruiting. He brings nine years of experience in the areas of recruiting, scouting and personnel.
Payne spent this past season at Georgia Southern as Director of Player Personnel. He worked for Monken at Army for four years as Director of Scouting, tasked with identifying prospective cadet-athletes and assisting assigned coaches with recruiting duties.
Payne was previously at Kennesaw State for four years as a defensive and recruiting assistant under head coach Brian Bohannon, a former Navy assistant. He replaces David Mahoney, who departed the program due to the Naval Academy Athletic Association vaccination mandate.
One of the biggest plays of Saturday’s game came late in the fourth quarter, when Navy stopped Army quarterback Christian Anderson a yard short on fourth-and-3 from the Mids’ own 48-yard line. Linebacker Diego Fagot and defensive end Jacob Busic were credited with making the tackle, but they had a lot of help.
Safety Eavan Gibbons and cornerback Michael McMorris both dove into the backfield to disrupt the play and wipe out blockers. Several other defenders rallied to the ball and help form a wall that prevented the Army offensive linemen from pushing Anderson forward.
“We watched that play over and over and over again in the defensive staff room and there were a lot of guys that had a hand in that,” defensive coordinator Brian Newberry said.
Newberry admitted to the media Tuesday that Navy was misaligned on the crucial play and blamed himself for making a poor defensive play call. “I expected one thing and they did something else,” the third-year defensive coordinator said.
“We survived it purely because of the physicality and effort our guys played with. It’s a bad call and we’re misaligned, but our guys played so hard they overcame it,” Newberry said. “It was one of those plays in the game when I thought our effort exceeded theirs and we played with more of an edge.
“If you look at that play pre-snap, you don’t think there’s any way we’re going to stop them because we don’t have numbers to that side of the field.”
Quarterback Tai Lavatai started the game, but backup Xavier Arline entered on the second play of Navy’s opening possession. The Midshipmen went into the pistol formation with slotback Carlinos Acie lined up behind the quarterback.
Acie picked up 13 yards on second down off a read double-option play and Arline followed with a 10-yard gain off a keeper. However, Arline pulled his right hamstring on the play and did not return to the game.
Niumatalolo said afterward the 5-foot-9, 176-pound sophomore was supposed to be a big part of the game plan because his running style fit the types of plays Navy wanted to run out of the pistol.
“We had some sub packages we put in for Xavier but, unfortunately, he got hurt,” Niumatalolo said.
Navy threw the ball downfield, ran a wide receiver reverse and the play that has become known as “Philly Special.” Sophomore wide receiver Jayden Umbarger (Spalding) continued his season-long success off reverses, making outside linebacker Andre Carter miss and racing 27 yards to set up the Midshipmen’s first touchdown.
Warren was unable to throw the ball back to Lavatai on the other trick play and had to tuck the ball and run. He blasted through an arm tackle by Carter at the first-down marker and ran 26 yards to set up Navy’s second touchdown.
“We were going to come out swinging and be in attack mode from the beginning,” Niumatalolo said.
A large contingent of Army supporters ripped Fagot on social media during the game and for several days afterward. Several called the 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker, who is an NFL prospect, a “dirty player.”
That talked started after Fagot held onto the ankle of Army fullback Anthony Adkins well after the whistle had blown early in the first quarter. Adkins finally freed his foot then stomped on Fagot before falling on the ground and grasping the ankle as though it had been hurt.
Adkins was not injured as he reentered the game shortly thereafter. Fagot led Navy with nine tackles and also had two quarterback hurries. Newberry was asked to comment on the charges of Fagot being a dirty player.
“That’s a joke. The play they’re talking about was when he held onto a guy’s ankle. He didn’t twist it. The guy is continuing to run, and you can’t hear the whistle. He’s playing until he knows the whistle has been blown,” Newberry said. “Diego is very physical and maybe they don’t like that, but he’s certainly not a dirty player.”
Army-Navy is always an extremely physical game and Newberry believes the winning side clearly won that battle this year.
“When you watch the film… we physically got after their rear ends. We played harder and were more physical and we out executed them. I think we beat them in every phase pretty convincingly in my opinion,” he said.
“I think that puts an exclamation point on a frustrating season. We got a feel for what this team can look like when we’re clicking on all three phases, which is what you saw Saturday against a good Army team.”
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Bill Wagner has worked for Capital Gazette Newspapers for 30 years. He served as beat writer for Navy athletics and general assignment sports reporter. He is also the sailing editor.