The Virginia Cavaliers’ first bowl appearance in six years went a lot like their 2017 season, a fast start gave way to a slow finish as the Navy Midshipmen routed Virginia 49-7 for their fourth bowl win in five seasons in front of 35,921 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Cavaliers (6-7) opened the game as strongly as possible with a kickoff return for a touchdown straight out of the gates, but from that point on, the Midshipmen (7-6) seized control and quickly would put the game out of reach to finish above .500 for the sixth straight season.
Virginia appeared it would be a legitimate threat to Navy as soon as the game began and Joe Reed returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give the Cavaliers a 7-0 lead just 12 seconds into the game.
But Navy answered with a 12-play, 68-yard drive that took over six minutes off the clock and the drive was capped off with a Zach Abey touchdown run from 1 yard out to tie the game at 7 with 8:43 remaining in the first quarter.
The Midshipmen defense forced a quick Virginia punt on its next possession and the offense turned it into more points when Malcolm Perry found the end zone from 22 yards out to give Navy a 14-7 lead with 4:18 to go in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, the Navy defense came up big again when Sean Williams intercepted Virginia’s Kurt Benkert to set the Midshipmen offense up at its own 14-yard line. Navy couldn’t convert, but after a punt and a defensive stop to turn the Cavaliers over on downs, the Midshipmen offense added to its lead.
Perry again found the end zone, this time from 19 yards out, to extend the Navy lead to 21-7 with 3:12 remaining in the second quarter. On Virginia’s ensuing offensive possession, a fumble was recovered by Navy’s Tyler Sayles to set the Midshipmen offense up at the Cavaliers’ 36-yard line.
And it took Navy only four plays to find the end zone when Abey punched it in from 1 yard out to extend the Midshipmen lead to 28-7 with 1:39 to go in the second quarter. The Cavaliers’ offense drove the ball into Midshipmen territory, but the drive ultimately stalled.
A.J. Mejia’s 48-yard field goal came up short and Navy’s 28-7 lead stood into halftime. After a fumbled punt return by the Cavaliers to open up the third quarter, Navy recovered and was sitting pretty at the Virginia 11-yard line.
The Midshipmen took full advantage when Abey found the end zone again, this time from 5 yards out, to extend the lead to 35-7 with 9:46 remaining in the third quarter. Abey continued to find the end zone later in the quarter, this time a 20-yard touchdown run to up the lead to 42-7 with 1:57 to go in the third quarter.
After another Abey 1-yard touchdown run with 11:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, the final score was set at 49-7 in favor of Navy for the Midshipmen’s first bowl win since 2015 and fourth in the last five seasons.
Navy’s run-heavy offense accounted for 452 rushing yards on the game on 76 carries and a total of seven touchdowns, led by Abey’s Military Bowl-record five rushing touchdowns along with 13 carries for 88 yards. Perry led the attack with 16 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns while Chris High added 19 carries for 101 yards.
The Midshipmen were led defensively by Tyris Wooten who finished with five total tackles and one pass defended while Taylor Heflin added five total tackles of his own. Williams also pitched in an interception for the Navy defense that held Virginia to just 175 total yards.
Benkert finished 16 for 36 for 145 yards and one interception on the game for the Cavaliers while Jordan Ellis led a meager ground game with 11 carries for 37 yards, but as a team, Virginia only accounted for a net of 30 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
Olamide Zaccheaus led all Virginia receivers with five receptions for 62 yards while Quin Blanding led the Cavaliers’ defense with 16 total tackles.
Despite an up and down season for both Navy and Virginia, both teams should take away positives heading into the 2018 season and improve upon what turned out to be an important season for both teams.