ANNAPOLIS, Md. — In a game rife with confusing moments, the ones right before and after a crucial Tulane penalty surged to the top of the list.
The Green Wave lost a final chance to rally past Navy with a costly flag for too many men on the field on a Navy punt, allowing the Midshipmen to convert a short fourth down and run out the clock in a 23-21 loss Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Tulane coach Willie Fritz was at a loss to explain why the officials allowed Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo to accept the penalty after initially declining it.
Niumatalolo had decided to give Tulane the ball at the Wave 2 with 1 minute, 58 seconds left after punt returner Jacob Robertson was tackled there. The down-and-distance markers were moved, but Niumatalolo changed his mind and decided to go for the first down.
The referees had to figure out where to reset the markers, causing a delay of a couple of minutes. Quarterback Zach Abey then picked up a yard and a half on fourth-and-1.
“I don’t know,” Fritz said. “It took forever. They accepted it for us to have the ball, and all of sudden they changed it and then they couldn’t spot it and mark it. We would have liked to have had an opportunity to see if we could (score) in two minutes.”
Niumatalolo praised long snapper Ronnie Querry.
“They were trying to get people off, and we were trying to get him to snap it,” Niumatalolo said. “It is good to have an electrical engineering major snapping. I was close to (giving Tulane the ball at the 2), but I didn’t want them to touch the ball. And we are a running team. If we can’t get 1 yard, then we probably don’t deserve to win.”
It turned out to be immaterial, but Fritz made an unconventional decision to go for 2 after Tulane cut its deficit to 23-19 in the fourth quarter.
Johnathan Brantley passed to tight end Charles Jones for the conversion, pulling the Wave within 23-21. After kicker Coby Neenan missed his third extra point of the year in the first half, Fritz decided to avoid overtime at all costs.
“We wanted to give our guys an opportunity to know whether we needed to score a touchdown or win with a field goal,” he said. “Analytically, it’s not a game we wanted to go into overtime. It would have been nice to get a chance to kick a field goal for the win. We just didn’t get it done.”
It did not carry the same element of surprise as last year, but three F-18 jets did an impressive flyby right after the national anthem, a Navy tradition for every home game.
Tulane had Navy jets do the same thing when the teams played last September at Yulman Stadium, drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
Senior backup long snapper Aaron Golub, who is legally blind, was one of Tulane’s four captains for the coin toss. … The Wave lost its conference opener for the 15th time in the 19 years since its perfect season of 1998. … Navy, which had fewer penalties than any team in college football last year, was called for none Saturday.