Navy sinks Deacs
By Mike Cranston
WINSTON-SALEM ó Riley Skinner’s first interception in nine months was quickly followed by another, then another.
The miscues didn’t stop until Navy was celebrating its first win over a ranked team in 23 years.
Skinner was responsible for five of No. 16 Wake Forest’s six turnovers, and his fourth-quarter interception ended any comeback hopes in Navy’s 24-17 win on Saturday.
“It’s pretty deflating for an offense and a defense when you do that,” said Skinner, who had his streak of 133 passes without an interception shattered by throwing four and losing a fumble. “It’s all on me.”
The Demon Deacons (3-1), who had earned a reputation for disciplined play, were done in by more than just their mistake-prone quarterback. Starting left tackle Jeff Birdsong was ejected, they couldn’t run the ball and the defense couldn’t stop the nation’s top ground game.
Eric Kettani rushed for a career-high 175 yards and backup quarterback Jarod Bryant scored the decisive touchdown late in the fourth quarter ó after Skinner’s fourth pick ó as Navy survived despite losing quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada in the second quarter to a hamstring injury.
“We weren’t surprised that they were tough against the run,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “I think the ability to not throw the football without turning the ball over was what hurt us today.”
With No. 20 Clemson also losing Saturday to Maryland, much of the luster is gone from the Clemson-Wake Forest matchup Oct. 9 that was supposed to determine superiority in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For Navy (3-2), it was new coach Ken Niumatalolo’s first signature win, and the Midshipmen’s first victory over a ranked team since they knocked off No. 20 Virginia 17-13 in 1985.
“It was a phenomenal job of our kids fighting, scratching and clawing,” Niumatalolo said. “Our defense played phenomenal today. Every situation that we put them in, our defense just stepped up.”
A much-criticized defense, which gave up 76 points in consecutive losses to Ball State and Duke, had many contributors. Four players had interceptions, with Emmett Merchant picking off Skinner midway through the fourth quarter with Wake Forest driving for a tying touchdown.
Kettani then quickly reeled off a 57-yard run, and Bryant’s 4-yard TD run with 3:45 left assured Navy wouldn’t cough up a 17-0 lead.
“We needed that touchdown at the end, obviously, to give us some breathing room,” Niumatalolo said. “I mean, that’s a good football team we just beat.”