Abey’s 5 TDs help Navy beat Virginia 49-7 in Military Bowl
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Two quarterbacks put on one heck of a show for Navy in the Military Bowl.
Backup Zach Abey scored five touchdowns, starter Malcolm Perry ran for 114 yards and two scores and the Midshipmen rolled to a surprisingly easy 49-7 victory over Virginia on Thursday.
After Virginia’s Joe Reed took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, the Midshipmen (7-6) got two TDs apiece from Perry and Abey in taking a 28-7 halftime lead.
Perry left in the third quarter with a foot injury, leaving Abey to score on runs of 5 and 20 yards to make it 42-7 in a game Navy entered as a 1½-point favorite.
“Malcolm did a masterful job. The kid’s phenomenal, man,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He brings another dimension to our offense. To Zach’s credit, he came in there and played really, really well.”
The Midshipmen rolled up a Military Bowl-record 452 yards rushing, including 101 by Chris High and 88 by Abey, who began the season as the starter before losing the job.
“That’s the best we’ve played all year,” Niumatalolo said. “We put it together on both sides of the ball.”
Going back and forth with Perry and Abey might be the way to go in 2018.
“They’re both really good football players. I’ve got to find a way to use them both,” Niumatalolo said. “Just what you saw today is probably what you’re going to see next year.”
After scoring on a 1-yard run with 11:11 remaining, Abey sat down after becoming the fifth player in FBS history to rush for five TDs in a bowl game.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Perry said. “It all starts up front. The guys were really physical. We played Navy football today.”
Playing in their first bowl since 2011, the Cavaliers (6-7) could not contain Navy’s triple option and had no success moving the ball.
“I think coach Niumatalolo had his team very well prepared,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Clearly, I didn’t have our team prepared to perform to their true potential, offensively, defensively or special teams.”
Seeking its first winning season in six years, Virginia instead absorbed its sixth loss in seven games.
“The team worked really hard to get to this point, and that’s an accomplishment,” Mendenhall said. “I don’t think it takes the edge off (the season), but it certainly takes some off because it’s never fun to not play well and to lose the game. But it’s also reflective of exactly where we are.”
They’re currently in the second tier of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and at least on this day not nearly as good as Navy.
“They just outplayed us,” Virginia free safety Quin Blanding said. “That’s the bottom line. They came ready to play and we didn’t.”
Virginia senior Kurt Benkert came in with a school-record 3,062 yards passing this season, along with 25 touchdown passes. In this one, he went 15 for 34 for 133 yards and an interception, and the Cavaliers finished with a season-low 175 yards in offense.
“It was windy and it was cold,” Benkert said. “It was hard to get into a rhythm, and we never really found our stride.”
After Reed went the distance with the opening kickoff, Navy responded with a 69-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard run by Abey. The Midshipmen then forced a three-and-out, and Perry finished an eight-play drive with a 22-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead.
Perry scored from 19 yards out and Abey concluded the first-half scoring with a 1-yard TD.
By then, Reed’s kickoff return was irrelevant.
“It’s nothing we haven’t seen all year. We just knew we had to respond,” Abey said.
PASS ON THE PASS
Navy attempted only one pass, a toss by Abey in the third quarter. It fell incomplete.
Virginia: The Cavaliers tripled their win total of a year ago and ended their six-year bowl drought, but now they’ve got this defeat to think about during the offseason.
“It might be the most valuable game of the year, in terms of now having the opportunity to reassess what we did, and reframing and addressing weaknesses in our program,” Mendenhall said.
Navy: The Midshipmen salvaged a disappointing season in which they started 5-0 before losing six of the next seven, including 14-13 to Army. Navy also discovered just how good Perry can be at QB, with Abey available when needed.
Virginia: Following an offseason to reflect upon their improvement and shortcomings, the Cavaliers open the 2018 season on Sept. 1 against visiting Richmond.
Navy: The Midshipmen launch the 2018 season with a lengthy journey for a Sept. 1 game against Hawaii.