Navy (4-1, 3-0 AAC) scored 17 points off three turnovers by No. 6 Houston (5-1, 2-1 AAC) and wore down the Cougars defense with their signature triple-option offense in a 46-40 upset that could be a game-changer in the Group of Five conversation. The result also likely sinks Houston’s playoff hopes.
Houston’s chance to potentially tie the game likely slipped out of the end zone just as the football being snapped to the punter got by him and out the back of the end zone, awarding Navy a free two points with just under six minutes to play. The safety gave Navy a 10-point lead. Special teams cost Houston on a fourth quarter touchdown when an extra point attempt was blocked, giving the Midshipmen an eight-point lead.
Navy seemed to take the upper hand in the third quarter, however, with a touchdown on their first possession of the half. Houston fumbled away the opening possession of the half when Greg Ward Jr. lost the ball while being sacked, setting Navy up at the Houston 41-yard line. Will Worth tossed a 17-yard touchdown to Daryll Bonner to give Navy a 27-20 lead. Houston’s next offensive series ended quickly when Josiah Powell intercepted a pass from Ward and ran 34 yards for another touchdown.
With a 14-point lead, Navy could set the pace for the remainder of the game, but they were not done scoring. Navy would score one more touchdown and then pick up the two points on the botched Houston punt. Houston came up with a tough fourth down stand with under six minutes to play, but could do nothing with the football before the punt team had their costly mistake.
Navy’s Worth rushed for 116 yards and a score and completed three of his five pass attempts for 76 yards and two more scores. Houston’s Ward ended his day with
It had been a long time since Navy won a game against a top 10 team at home in Annapolis. The last time it happened was November 17, 1984 when they stunned No. 2 South Carolina, 38-21.
Make no mistake about it. This loss is a tough pill to swallow for Houston if the goal was reaching the College Football Playoff. It may not necessarily be a knockout punch for the playoff, but it leaves Houston in need of quite a bit of help around the country in addition to the need to run the table the rest of the season (including a home date against Louisville). Each season has a different story play out, but if one loss can be enough to take a power conference team out of the playoff picture, it puts a Group of Five team further back in the rearview mirror. Even one as good as Houston. But what if Houston does run the table and does win the AAC? What if Oklahoma wins the Big 12 with a 10-2 record, which includes a loss to Houston? Well, maybe Houston isn’t quite out of the picture just yet. It may be a reach, but Houston is not quite buried just yet.
But for now, Houston will still need help just to play for the AAC championship, and Navy shows no reason to believe they may let up in conference play. The Midshipmen are now 3-0 in the AAC and own the crucial head-to-head tiebreaker with Houston. Navy still has some conference challenges ahead of them (vs. Memphis, @ USF, vs. Tulsa), but Navy is now has a stake in controlling how the AAC West plays out, along with Memphis and Tulsa. Houston does not.
In fact, Navy is now in position to start thinking how they can be the Group of Five team playing in the New Years Six. With San Diego State going down last week, Navy now climbs the ladder past Houston and arguably closer to undefeated Boise state.
Navy will look to keep this run going next week on the road against East Carolina. Meanwhile, Houston will look to take out their frustrations on Tulsa next Saturday evening at home.