The Passing of the Torch
Navy's Ricky Dobbs
Navy's Ricky Dobbs
Posted Nov 3, 2008

Ken Niumatalolo didn't need to tell the group of reporters gathered outside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium that things did not look very good for his Midshipmen as they struggled through the second half against Al Golden's Temple Owls on Saturday.

Indeed, it was more than apparent to everyone in Annapolis that afternoon that the Midshipmen were in trouble. Not only did Navy fall behind Temple 27-7 after Keey-ay Griffin's 16-yard touchdown run put the Owls ahead with 14:41 left to go in the game, but the Midshipmen faced the prospect of staging a comeback without quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who left the game in the third quarter after aggravating a hamstring injury. Forced to rely on former third stringer Ricky Dobbs for the second straight week, it looked like Navy would be playing only for pride in the final minutes of Senior Day in Annapolis.

As Navy's first year headman reiterated after the game, "things looked pretty bleak."

Then something happened.

Aided by a seemingly spontaneous sense of offensive urgency and a slew of late game Temple mistakes, Dobbs and the Midshipmen staged the biggest fourth quarter comeback in program history before 34,775 fans in Annapolis, improving Navy's record to 6-3 while securing the program's sixth consecutive bowl trip with the victory. For the sophomore Dobbs it was his second straight game leading Navy to victory, coming a week after he rushed for an improbable 224 yards and four touchdowns against Southern Methodist.

Not bad for a guy who began the year third on the depth chart with no major plans for playing time.

That Dobbs could come in late in the third quarter and direct a previously struggling offense seems almost miraculous given the circumstances. Temple had held the Midshipmen scoreless through the second and third quarters after giving up a touchdown on the game's opening drive, relying on a veteran and athletic defense to take away Navy's perimeter running game. While Navy fans had reason to hold out hope in a comeback under senior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku Enhada, the so-called Flyin' Hawaiann just did not look 100%, and staggered off the field after picking up a first down late in the third quarter. For Kaheaku-Enhada it was another disappointment in a season plagued by injury, as Navy's emotional leader and best offensive player would be unable to continue. Enter Dobbs, who just a few plays later would go on to throw an interception to Temple's Jaiqua Jarrett, ending a promising Navy drive and leading to seven more Owl points. Down 20 and playing with virtually no emotion, Navy fans had little reason to hold out hope.

Yet Dobbs would respond. Playing for Navy's historic senior class and for the memory of an uncle who passed away a year prior to the game, Dobbs' showed a "never-say-die" attitude that was contagious for the Navy sideline. It started off small. A quarterback draw here, a pass in the flat there. But before the majority of Navy fans could hit the parking lots the sophomore signal caller had something going, leading Navy's offense on a 78-yard drive which culminated in a perfectly thrown touchdown strike to senior wideout T.J. Thiel. There was more to come though, as Navy's impassioned defense stepped up to force a Temple punt after just six Owl plays, giving Dobbs and the Navy offense the ball back with 6:29 left to go in the game.

That's when things got really interesting.

After leading the Mids to the Temple goaline Dobbs and the Navy offense were stonewalled with 2:59 left to go in the game. Still down by two touchdowns, head coach Ken Niumatalolo had no choice but to send the offense out for one last "do-or-die" goaline attempt. After taking the snap Dobbs pivoted to his left, beginning a fullback option play while drawing in three Temple defenders. Yet Temple's defense closed too quickly, and for a moment seemed to overwhelm the Navy quarterback. Somehow though, Dobbs was able to pitch the ball to Eric Kettani despite fighting off the tackles of multiple Owl defenders, giving the senior fullback a clear path to the endzone. Suddenly and perhaps, as Dobbs would later hint, miraculously, the Mids were down by only a touchdown, and victory didn't look to be such a far off possibility.

What happens next you undoubtedly know by now. Temple's offense self-imploded in the games waning seconds, and Clint Sovie's 42-yard fumble return sent the Mids and the Owls into overtime, where Dobbs would once again capitalize on a Temple miscue to power his way to the game winning score. Yet none of these events would have been possible without his resiliency, and to a greater extent, the resiliency of the larger Navy team. Rallying behind the sophomore, the Mids came together just in the knick in time, winning one of the most dramatic senior day games in the history of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Critics will likely point out that Navy's comeback win was more on account of Temple's losing the game than Navy's winning the game. And hey, there's certainly a lot of validity in that argument. If one can't help but question Al Golden's decision to go for it on fourth and one in overtime then you've got to admit that the call to run the football with 37 seconds left to go seems downright dumbfounding, even if it was ultimately Griffin who lost the ball. The Owls, as one reporter said after the game, just didn't know how to win, and it showed as Golden and his team frittered away their lead in the fourth quarter. Still, it can't be overlooked that for each mistake the Owls made down the stretch the Midshipmen capitalized and executed, hallmarks of a programs which not only knows how to win, but one which, as the saying goes, believes it can win.

And therein lays the really amazing part of Dobbs' performance. We can talk about his ability to throw the deep ball or his great combination of quickness and strength all you want, but what amazed me most about Dobbs on Saturday was his ability to not only energize the offense, but to execute it within the most desperate of on-field settings. That he could do so after coming in cold in the third quarter is all the more impressive, and that he could do so against a defense which had been teeing off all day on the Navy offense shows, in my mind, a rapid maturation process for the 6'1 sophomore.

This wasn't a mop up performance against a mediocre FCS team after all, nor was it garbage time in a losing effort against second stringers from Pittsburgh. And for as good as he looked at times against Southern Methodist, one can't help but bring up the proverbial "yea, but" clause when talking about the atrocious Mustang defense Dobbs so easily ran over. No, 3-6 Temple may not be the 2001 Baltimore Ravens on defense, but they did enter the game in the top half of the nation in total defense, and had seen Navy's offense multiple times in the past.

Ricky Dobbs may not be ready for Ohio State next season, and goodness knows the sophomore from Douglasville, Georgia still has his lumps to take over the course of his collegiate career. Yet even in a win which can be singularly described as "ugly," Dobbs proved that he could play with the big boys, and he proved it decisively. Like any young quarterback he has a long way to go, but in the early November breeze of an Annapolis evening he not only took the torch from injured starter Kaipo-Noa, he ran with it.

Think I missed the mark? Got something to vent about? Drop Adam Nettina a line

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