Navy wide receiver Brandon Turner started off his senior year on a sour note. The team's leading pass-catcher in 2011 missed the season opener against Notre Dame and didn't start against Penn State after being suspended for failing his physical readiness test.
Turner has certainly made up for his early season struggles. After catching a team-high 19 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns -- including two against Indiana -- Turner made what he called the biggest reception of his career Saturday in Navy's 17-13 win over Army at Lincoln Financial Field.
A 49-yard catch by Turner set up the game-winning 8-yard touchdown run by Keenan Reynolds.
"I wasn't so sure about my whole career and where it was going to go after the incidents," Turner said. "But I remember Coach [Niumatalolo] hugging me when I wasn't going to go to Ireland [to play Notre Dame] and he told me, 'There's going to be one game where the team's going to need you and you're going to step up and make a play.'"
Before Saturday's game, they hugged again.
"He said, 'I'm so glad you're here'," Turner recalled. "I said, 'Thanks Coach, I've got you for this game, I'm going to make a play for you.' He said, 'I know you will.' It's kind of a Cinderella story a little bit. It's kind of mushy and emotional, but it's kind of cool that it turned out that way."
Said Niumatalolo: "He's stayed the course, he's come back and made some great plays for us. He's a wonderful kid."
Not bowling yet
Niumatalolo originally scheduled his team to start practicing for its Dec. 29 game against Arizona in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at San Francisco's A&T Park on Tuesday -- at 6 a.m.
After Saturday's game, Niumatalolo said he might reconsider.
"Normally I tell these guys to get ready and come back Monday, we're going to run hard and get your treatment," Niumatalolo said. "But I'm going to let these guys enjoy this one. These guys worked so hard. It's probably one of the first times I've said that, but we are going to enjoy this one."
The Navy football players wore dozens of different patches in Saturday's game against Army to honor a numbers soldiers killed in battle, a variety of military units as well as an entire branch of the service. But they all wore the same decal on the back of their white helmets.
It read "Rafi", the nickname of Ralph Montalvo, Jr., the freshman Navy quarterback who was seriously injured in a one-vehicle accident on Nov. 22, after returning to his family's home in South Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving.
"It's the least we can do for him," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said earlier this week.
Montalvo was placed in a medically-induced coma by doctors at the Kendall Regional Medical Center shortly after the accident, which also seriously injured one of Montalvo's good friends. Though his condition was upgraded after a few days from critical to serious but stable, Montalvo needed a tracheotomy performed to help him breath.
The uniform Montalvo would have worn to Saturday's game as Navy's third-string quarterback was sent to the family shortly after the accident. Niumatalolo, who visited with the family a couple of days after the accident, said that the decal was a way to "let him know that we're thinking about him ... anything we can do to lift his spirits."
Rooting for Te'o
Niumatalolo has a rooting interest in the outcome of this year's Heisman Trophy voting.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o grew up in Laie', Hawaii, where Niumatalolo's parents settled years ago after his father's career in the Coast Guard ended. Niumatalolo and his wife, Barbara, visit each summer with their three children. Te'o and his parents are distant cousins of the Niumatalolos.
"We're not super close, but where we come from, it's so small and everyone knows everyone," Niumatalolo said about Teo after practice Wednesday in Annapolis. "I know the families on both side. He's a lot younger than I am, but everyone knew Manti growing up. He was probably the most highly acclaimed high school player to come out of Hawaii, maybe ever, and he just picked it up in college."
Niumatalolo laughed at the notion that he could have used his family connections to recruit Te'o to Navy rather than play against him the past four years, including in this year's 50-10 loss to the then-unranked Fighting Irish in Dublin, Ireland, in the season opener.
"I don't think so, he's going to the NFL," Niumatalolo said.
As for rooting for Te'o to beat out Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Kleine, Niumatalolo said, "I'm pulling for Mani, now that we're done playing him. Fortunately we don't have to see him anymore. The other kids are deserving too, but he's the sentimental pick, being from my hometown."
Pompless in Philadelphia
Though the Midshipmen and Cadets did their traditional walk-on a couple of hours before the start of the game, two other activities that are part of the pomp and ceremony were not held because of the cloudy conditions. There was no flyover or drop-in by parachutists because of the low cloud ceiling, officials said….Vice president Joe Biden was part of the opening coin toss, but the game referee did the coin toss itself.
Where the Army-Navy games are scheduled to be played through 2017:
2013: Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field
2014: Baltimore, M&T Bank Stadium
2015: Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field
2016: Baltimore, M&T Bank Stadium
2017: Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial FieldCopyright © 2015, CT Now