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Navy Thunders Past ASU 57-5

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Navy Thunders Past ASU 57-5

Navy is back to the semifinals. David Hughes photo.

Navy torched a very good Arkansas State team 57-5 to advance to the 2023-24 D1A semifinals.

Played at Navy's venue in Annapolis, Md., the game could well have been very close—there were many reasons to believe it could be. But in the end, it wasn't.

The Mids built a 12-0 lead with a pair of tries from William Webb in the seventh and 13th minutes. Ben Haugh added a try in the 35th minute to make the score, 19-5, at halftime. Navy tacked on five more tries in the final 40 minutes and made a penalty kick to outscore Arkansas State, 38-0, in the second half.

“We’re exactly where we want to be and now heading to the semifinals in the D1A playoffs," said Navy DOR Gavin Hickie. This is where we envisioned ourselves at this point of the season and the most pleasing thing from our perspective is that we’ve earned another week together. We’re not ready to say goodbye to each other yet, particularly to our big group of seniors we have this year. From a tactical perspective, I think we were fortunate again to play into the wind in the first half. We were very clinical in the first 40 minutes. We did give up five points on a missed kick chase, but we played the conditions very well to build a lead at half. We said we have to be ruthless in the second half and I think we showed that. Very pleased with our overall performance and excited to fight for another week.”

Arkansas State held an early edge in the field position battle with Navy having to play against the wind. The Mids were unable to clear the ball out of their defensive 22-meter zone with a pair of kicks. The Red Wolves charged down to the five-meter line in the third minute, but turned the ball over attempting to force a pass between a pair of defenders. Landon Opp gave Navy breathing room by kicking the ball back to the 10-meter line.

Opp sent another kick downfield in the sixth minute and Arkansas State lost the ball forward to give the Mids a scrum just outside the Red Wolves' 22. From there Roanin Krieger zipped a pass to Andrew Baublitz and the freshman bolted through the defense to gain 20 meters. Baublitz then handed the ball off to Opp, who was tackled a meter away from the try zone. Webb punched the ball across the try line moments later for the first score of the match to give Navy a 5-0 lead.

Arkansas State committed a knock-on attempting to scoop up a clearing kick in the 11th minute and once again Navy had an attacking scrum. Jack Aleman brought in a pass from Krieger and he slipped out of an ankle tackle to advance the ball inside the five-meter line. Webb found the tryline from short range again in the 13th minute. Krieger converted and it was 12-0.

A big runback on the ensuing kickoff by Jake Cornelius quickly established Navy on the front foot again. The Red Wolves were penalized on the following carry. Navy took the lineout and mauled it down to the ASU line. There scrumhalf Sean MacLaney forced his way over but was held up before and Arkansas State was able to get out of it.

Navy continued its aggressive attack and mixed it with some tactical kicking. Krieger launched a kick, but this time it backfired as the wind blew it backward. ASU chased on got the ball, and burst through for 50 meters for the try. Now it 12-5 at 21 minutes and, at that point, not really a surprise that it was so close. It wouldn't be for long. 

JD Bengtson forced a knock-on by Arkansas State at midfield in the 33 minute that led to a scrum. A pair of strong carries from Aleman and Baublitz gained 30 meters to drive Navy into the ASU 22. And while the Red Wolves forced Baublitz into touch, Navy's Vaughn Schmitz was able to steal the ball in the lineout and eventually Haugh found a crease in the defense and bulldozed his way through. Krieger converted and it was 19-5. 

Navy Starts to Cruise

Navy took full advantage of Arkansas State having to kick against the wind in the second half. A deep kickoff forced the Red Wolves deep inside their 22. Finally another stolen lineout through led Aidan Gerber to charge through and Haugh to finish it off. Another lineout turnover led to a probing kick from Opp that was misplayed into touch, and Navy used that lineout to set up an attack where MacLaney set up Krieger for a charge through.

Now it was 33-5, and and there was still plenty of rugby to be played. Mistakes really started to curse ASU. Taylor drove through in the 54th minute, and some big sunning from Max Smith allowed the Navy forwards to help Ed Soeder over. Krieger kept kicking and it was 47-5.

Ian Bullock was subbed into the match following Soeder’s score and he immediately made an impact. Arkansas State overthrew a lineout at Navy’s offensive 10-meter line. Bullock picked up the loose ball and gained 25 meters before lobbing a pass to Ganse, who juked out three defenders before running in for the final try. Krieger added a penalty to close it out.

It was a dominant performance by a very good Navy side determined to repeat their 2022-23 title run. This is still a young Navy side but they will have experience in knockout rugby. In this game they certainly had the poise, while Arkansas State will probably look at this game and wish for a bit of a do-over on some of those plays. 

Next up for a high-flying Navy will be the ever-imposing Life, the last program to win two D1A titles in a row.