ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Zach Abey is still having some growing pains as the starting quarterback for Navy.
The junior is absorbing the nuances of the Midshipmen's signature triple-option offense. He also committed a few costly turnovers.
Still, the Navy coaches are encouraged by his recent strides.
Abey amassed 240 total yards with a touchdown, leading the Midshipmen past Tulane 23-21 in the American Athletic Conference opener Saturday.
"I think we made a lot of mistakes," Abey said. "A lot of that is on me. We made plays when we had to, but we had a lot of missed opportunities. I made a lot of bad decisions."
Abey was coming off a record-setting performance last week against Florida Atlantic when he ran for 235 yards -- the most-ever for a quarterback in the the AAC. He was the difference again with 108 yards on 29 carries. Abey also completed 4 of 12 passes for 132 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown throw to Tyler Carmona, with an interception.
Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks, a junior college transfer, took a hard hit in the second quarter, suffering an undisclosed injury, and did not return. Sophomore Johnathan Brantley, however, provided a spark off the bench and scored his first career touchdown with a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
"I was surprised but I had to be ready," Brantley said. "That's my job as a backup, to step in if he goes down. I was ready."
The Green Wave (1-1, 0-1) cut the margin to 23-21 on a 1-yard dive by Dontrell Hilliard and a two-point conversion with 12:56 left in the game. Tulane, however, failed to convert a pair of key fourth downs late in the fourth quarter to extend drives.
A penalty for too many players on the field gave Navy a fourth and 1 from the Green Wave's 46 with 1:58 left. Abey converted the first down and the Midshipmen (2-0, 1-0) were able to run out the clock to seal the victory.
"I thought our guys really fought back," Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. "We had some big plays in there that we converted to get back in the ball game, which was great. I'm proud of the guys and their effort, and everything else. But I would have liked to have the opportunity to see what we could have done there at the end. It would have been tough but I would have liked to have that opportunity."
Brantley completed five of eight passes for 58 yards. He also ran for 73 yards on nine carries with the score.
The game was a battle of two teams with a similar offense.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo ran the triple-option as a quarterback at Hawaii and was later an assistant under coach Paul Johnson, who ran the same system. Fritz has used the zone option throughout his 24-year coaching career.
On this day, Navy was more successful moving the ball, out-gaining the Green Wave 326 to 262.
Tulane was looking to open the season with two straight wins for the first time since 2002.
"It was a hard-fought win," Niumatalolo said. "We knew it would be coming in. I always said playing those guys is like playing a service academy. We both run the ball. Everything is a grind."
Tulane: The Green Wave has looked more comfortable running the zone option under Fritz, who is in his second year. One of the keys is the arrival of Banks, who transferred from Independence Community College in Kansas. While his status for the next game is uncertain, Brantley showed he can be a capable backup.
Navy: The junior Abey has been overall solid running the offense, but he must do a better job protecting the ball. Abey has been involved in all four of the team's turnovers in the opening two games -- two fumbles, an interception and a bad exchange with the center. That's an area the Mids will look to improve over the next several games.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo had two sons playing against one another in a NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision game Saturday. Va'a Niumatalolo is a senior linebacker at BYU and his brother Ali'i is a freshman linebacker for Utah. With that game kicking off at 10:15 p.m. ET, the coach would have the opportunity to watch.
Tulane: The Green Wave travel to No. 5 Oklahoma for the first of two consecutive non-conference games. Tulane is playing the Sooners for the first time in program history.
Navy: The Midshipmen host Cincinnati in their second AAC game on Sept. 23. Navy leads the all-time series 2-0.
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Posted on Sun, September 10, 2017
by By TODD KARPOVICH, Associated PressThe Lafourche Gazette