SAN FRANCISCO After weathering early-season travails to close with seven wins in eight games, the Navy football team stalled in its finale, falling behind quickly by three touchdowns and proving no match for Arizona State, losing 62-28 on Saturday in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.
The look of utter disbelief on the face of coach Ken Niumatalolo as he stood on the sideline framed the story of Navy's fifth loss in its past six bowl appearances and second straight in lopsided fashion.
In 2010, the Midshipmen lost to San Diego State 35-14 in the Poinsettia Bowl, and this one didn't take long to get more out of hand before an announced crowd of 34,172 on a crisp and clear afternoon in the Bay Area.
Navy (8-5) was especially helpless defensively. The Sun Devils scored touchdowns on their first nine possessions and rolled up 648 yards, including 314 in the first half, during which none of their drives required more than nine plays or lasted longer than 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
In winning its third straight game, Arizona State accumulated the most points in the Fight Hunger Bowl's 10-year history and set a school record for most points in a bowl appearance.
"We couldn't stop them," Navy senior linebacker Brye French said. "Everything that we tried, they just dominated us in basically every aspect of the game. It was very frustrating, but you've got to give them credit. They had a great game plan. They executed on everything."
Arizona State's opening series covered 75 yards and concluded with wide receiver Rashad Ross' 16-yard catch in the end zone on a pass from quarterback Taylor Kelly (Kelly finished 17 for 19 for 272 yards and four touchdowns). Running back Marion Grice, the game's MVP, ran for 35 yards during the drive, with his nine-yard jaunt on second and two setting up the touchdown.
Grice (159 yards, two touchdowns) was featured prominently again on the team's ensuing possession when he scored on a 10-yard run with 8:22 left in the first quarter.
And by the time Kelly capped a nine-play, 69-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run, Navy was well on its way to allowing its most points in any bowl game in program history.
The Midshipmen scored their lone touchdown of the first half on freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds' three-yard completion to junior wide receiver Matt Aiken to trim the margin to 21-7 early in the second quarter. But Arizona State (8-5) needed less than two minutes to score twice more, including a 52-yard pass from Kelly to Ross (139 yards and three touchdowns on four catches), followed by a missed extra point to make the score 34-7.
"It's a low right now for us," Niumatalolo said. "We're pretty emotional right now in the locker room, just a sadness knowing it's an end."