The penalty that helped cost Tulane a final chance to beat Navy on Saturday never should have been marked off.
American Athletic Conference communications director Chuck Sullivan confirmed Monday the officials missed an infraction by the Midshipmen that would have offset the Green Wave having too many men on the field on a crucial late punt.
Coming out a timeout and facing a fourth-and-6 at its 49 with 2:10 left, Navy rushed its punt team on the field and snapped the ball as Tulane, which had no timeouts left, tried to take out its defense for its special teams unit.
The Wave had 15 players on the field, but Navy’s left end was shifting at the snap.
“Navy was not legally set prior to the ball being snapped, so that should have been a penalty,” Sullivan said. “It would have created offsetting penalties on that play, and there would have been a redo.”
Instead, Navy was granted a fourth-and-1. Quarterback Zach Abey ran for a first down, allowing the Midshipmen to run out the clock and preserve a 23-21 victory.
“Our film review showed Navy was not set at the snap, which is a penalty,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said in a statement released by the university. “I communicated with conference officials yesterday. Any further comment on the play should come from the league office.”
Fritz admitted after the game he made a mistake by not leaving his defense on the field. He added that he expected the center judge to hold on to the ball longer and allow the Wave time to match up, but the ball was put in play quickly.
Some discretion is allowed there. The official rule states the defense has to be given ample time to substitute following an offensive substitution, but the length is open to interpretation.
Another controversial aspect was Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s indecision after Tulane punt returner Jacob Robertson was tackled at the 2 with 1:58 left. The game tape reveals Niumatalolo waited about 10 seconds after the referee announced the penalty was declined before running on to the field to say he wanted to accept it. By that point, the down and distance markers already had been moved, causing a delay of more than two minutes as they were reset.
NCAA rules allow a reasonable amount of time for a coach to change his mind on accepting a penalty, again leaving it to the discretion of the officials.
Tulane wanted one more opportunity for what could have been a landmark victory. The Wave, a 13-point underdog, has lost 18 of its past 20 AAC games. Navy, the defending AAC West champion, extending the nation’s longest home-winning streak to 15.
Banks' status still unclear
Tulane’s off day was Monday, so the health of starting quarterback Jonathan Banks remained uncertain. He left the Navy game in the second quarter after being tackled and did not play the rest of the way, returning to the sideline in street clothes during the third quarter.
Tulane’s only official word on his status Monday was that he had an “upper-body injury,” and his status would be determined as the week went along.
Banks, a junior college transfer who won the starting job in spring practice, rushed three times for 6 yards and completed 3-of-5 passes for 13 yards as the offense picked up just two first downs in four full series.
Backup Johnathan Brantley led a touchdown drive immediately after replacing him, finishing with a team-high 73 rushing yards on 10 carries and completing 5 of 8 passes for 58 yards.
Tulane plays at second-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday.
Kickoff for the Tulane-Army game on Sept. 23 at Yulman Stadium will be at 11 a.m., with CBS Sports Network televising it. … Senior linebacker Rae Juan Marbley made the AAC honor roll after matching his career high with 11 tackles and forcing a fumble against Navy.