Abey (5 TDs) helps Navy sink Virginia in Military Bowl
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Virginia players made the mistake of walking through Navy’s stretch lines prior to kickoff on a frigid day.
The type of disrespect did not sit well with the Midshipmen, who proceeded to dominant the Cavaliers in every facet of the game.
Backup quarterback Zach Abey scored five touchdowns to lead Navy past Virginia 49-7 in the Military Bowl on Thursday.
“That’s as good a game we’ve played in a long time,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “There were some things that happened in the game that kind of got our guys fired up. They walked through our stretch lines. I’ve been coaching at this stadium for 20 years and the only other team to do that was Rutgers and we got after them pretty good.
“We’re a pretty respectful team. But if you walk through our stretch lines, you better hold on, brother.”
Malcolm Perry started the game at quarterback and ran for 114 yards with two touchdowns before leaving with a foot injury in the third quarter. The injury is not expected to be long-term.
“It’s nothing too crazy,” Perry said about the injury. “I should be back soon. I can start the healing process early.”
Abey took over for Perry and finished with 88 yards on 13 carries. His five rushing touchdowns are the most in the Military Bowl history and third most in school history. It also tied an FBS bowl record.
“At the end of the day, I just want the team to be in the best position to win the football game,,” Abey said. “If the coaches want us to have a two-quarterback system, then that’s completely fine with me.”
Navy (7-6) entered the game with the nation’s No. 2 running attack, averaging 343 yards. The Midshipmen maintained that dominance and finished with 452 yards in the ground, also setting a record for the bowl.
The game was played at a sold-out Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the home of the Midshipmen.
The Cavaliers (6-7), who were playing in their first bowl game since 2011, simply could not keep pace with Navy’s high-powered attack and were hampered by several key mistakes.
Virginia’s Daniel Hamm fumbled on a punt on his own 11 early in the third quarter. Navy made the Cavaliers pay three plays later on a 5-yard run by Abey that extended Navy’s lead to 35-7.
Abey scored twice more on a 20-yard run and 1-yard sneak that gave Navy a 49-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. Fullback Chris High had 101 yards on 19 carries for Navy.
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert, who threw for a school-record 3,062 yards with 25 touchdowns this season, was 16 of 36 for 145 yards with an interception.
“It was windy and it was cold,” Benkert said. “It took a little bit to get started and into a rhythm. We never really found our stride as the game went on. But that’s not really an excuse. I just have to find a way to do better and deliver the ball.”
The Cavaliers’ Joe Reed provided an early spark with a 98-yard touchdown run on the opening kickoff — the fifth-longest in school history.
Navy responded on the ensuing drive. Abey took over at quarterback for Perry on the final play of the 69-yard march and ran for a 1-yard score.
Perry gave the Midshipmen a 14-7 lead on their next possession with a 22-yard touchdown run. Navy ran for 143 yards in the opening quarter.
Virginia did a much better job containing the triple-option until Perry had a 33-yard run scamper with 5:36 left in the half. Perry followed that with a 19-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 that boosted the lead to 21-7.
The Midshipmen recovered a fumble by Benkert on the Virginia 36. That set up another 1-yard touchdown by Abey with 1:30 remaining in the half.
“They played an exceptional game today,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “They played well in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams. They played at a high level. In regard to our play, I believe players play as they’re prepared. Clearly, I did not have our team prepared.”
NOTES: Navy was missing five starters due to injuries: WR Tyler Carmona (shoulder), LB Micah Thomas (wrist), LB Hudson Sullivan (foot), RB Tre Walker (knee), OT Ford Higgins (ankle) and LB Jerry Thompson (undisclosed). ... The bowl game marked the 40th meeting between Navy and Virginia and first since 1994. The Midshipmen now lead the all-time series 29-11. ... Coach Bronco Mendenhall led BYU to 11 consecutive bowl appearances before arriving taking over the Cavaliers.