ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — After watching quarterback Trey Miller lose two fumbles in the first quarter, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was furious.
“I almost made a switch,” Niumatalolo said. “I just went with a gut feeling to give Trey one more chance.”
Miller rewarded Niumatalolo’s patience, rushing for 116 yards and three touchdowns to carry the Midshipmen past Virginia Military Institute 41-3 on Saturday.
It was the first win of the season for Navy, which was coming off a 50-10 loss to Notre Dame and a 34-7 defeat at Penn State.
“This feels a lot better than the last two weeks,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s not to say we’re perfect or the New York Giants or anything like that. Obviously, too many penalties (seven) and too many turnovers (two), but we’re going to continue to grind to get better.”
Navy (1-2) scored the game’s final 41 points — 28 in the second half — to improve to 9-0 against VMI (1-3) in a rivalry that dates back to 1898. Noah Copeland ran for 126 yards and Gee Gee Greene contributed 79 yard rushing.
After being scolded by Niumatalolo at the end of the first quarter, Miller fumbled again on Navy’s first drive of the second quarter. But a teammate recovered the ball, and Miller was safe to continue.
“I told Trey, `One more turnover and we have to move on,”‘ Niumatalolo said. “We couldn’t have that.”
Miller settled in, scoring on runs of 7, 1 and 40 yards while directing an offense that amassed 510 yards, including 403 on the ground.
“I still don’t think I played really good,” Miller said.
Navy’s defense sure did. The Midshipmen yielded only 222 yards and linebacker Matt Warrick scored on a 7-yard interception return with 6:50 left.
VMI, a Football Championship Subdivision school, has been outscored 88-9 over the last two weeks in losses to Richmond and Navy.
“As the game went on, their offense did what we wanted to stop them from doing — they turned two- and three-yard gains into eight-to-10-yard gains,” VMI coach Sparky Woods said. “Plus, we were just not good at sustaining a drive on our offensive end.”
Keydets quarterback Eric Korndenbrock hurt his back while being tackled in the first quarter and did not return until VMI’s second series after halftime.
“He got hit on a three-step drop and that shouldn’t happen,” Woods said.
Kordenbrock went 9 for 16 for 78 yards and two interceptions, and backup A.J. Augustine was 7 for 15 for 54 yards. Augustine, a redshirt junior, had previously thrown only three passes in his college career.
Navy led by only 10 points in the third quarter before Miller directed a 66-yard drive that ended with his second TD. In the fourth quarter, Miller broke loose in the secondary and vaulted over VMI cornerback James Fruehan on a 40-yard score that made it 27-3.
That more than made up for his three fumbles, along with his eight turnovers over three games.
“He buckled down and finished strong,” Niumatalolo said.
“You always get confidence when you’re doing things right,” Miller said. “I’ll try to build on that.”
Despite committing two turnovers — both on fumbles by Miller — Navy more than doubled VMI’s offensive yardage (257-110) in taking a 13-3 halftime lead.
Navy’s first possession ended with Miller mishandling a snap and losing the ball at the VMI 35. The Keydets then moved 41 yards in 10 plays before Jeff Sexton kicked a 42-yard field goal.
On the subsequent drive, the Midshipmen had a first down at the VMI 3 but had to settle for a field goal — their lone first-quarter score this season.
Two plays after the kickoff, Kordenbrock got sandwiched between two tacklers after throwing a second-down pass. He remained on the turf for several minutes before being helped to the sideline.
The Midshipmen finally got into the end zone late in the first half, moving 77 yards to take the lead for good. One play after Gee Greene ran 36 yards on a third-and-5, Miller scored from the 7.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)