Navy’s backup quarterback steps in to lead Navy past Texas State.
Navy Midshipmen players sing the schools alma matter following a recent victory over Temple. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Enter Tago Smith, a sophomore from Fayetteville, GA, who had yet to throw a collegiate pass. Throwing the ball isn’t the primary concern for head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s heralded triple-option attack. Maintaining a steady run game is.
“I think the most important part was just being focused,” Smith said. “I had to realize I had one job, and I needed to get it done. Of course you have nerves, but after that first play they go away.”
Smith quickly quelled any fears of a Navy letdown—gaining 85 of his 202 total yards on the ground and accounting for four touchdowns in a 35-21 win over Texas State last Saturday evening.
Reynolds, who has amassed more than 4,000 yards of offense in his career with the Midshipmen (2-1), was unable to play after the effect of a right knee injury suffered the week before continued to hamper him. Until that injury, Reynolds’ rushing total against the Owls defense was 173 yards on 21 carries. The team collectively racked up a most-impressive 487 yards—certainly a tough act to follow.
His understudy, though, proved up to the task in front of a record crowd at Texas State—all the while becoming the latest in a long line of quarterbacks that have successfully maneuvered the moving parts that make up the triple-option at the Naval Academy.
“I thought he played great under the circumstances,” Niumatalolo said. “He came in and played well against a very aggressive defense.”
Smith received a great deal of help from a stellar and sturdy offensive line, as well as his other ball carriers. Most notable among them was fullback Noah Copeland. The senior from nearby San Antonio, TX, made the most of his 11 rushing attempts—gaining 116 yards. In total, nine different Mids combined to run for 352 yards; a standout day for most programs. For Navy, that was its lowest rushing output in three games this season.
The positive impressions Smith made weren’t just one-dimensional. He threw for 117 yards and two touchdowns. The last being a 67-yard connection with Jamir Tillman in the early moments of the fourth quarter–marking the longest Navy scoring pass play since 2010.
The only blemish in this mostly-perfect outing was an interception by Texas State’s Germond Williams in the third period on an underthrown toss. Thanks to the Midshipmen’s defense, that mistake did not prove costly—as it limited the Bobcats’ offense and quickly forced a punt.
“There are always things you can improve on,” Smith said, assessing his performance. “But we got the victory.”
Being a winning signal-caller at Navy didn’t seem realistic to Smith when he arrived to Annapolis. He joined the team as a running back, but was moved to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at quarterback in Week 6 of the 2013 campaign after back-up John Hendrick was dealt a season-ending knee injury.
He remained in that position entering camp this summer—as Smith, and his coaches maintained the belief that he could fill Reynolds’ role if needed.
“I had confidence in myself, and the coaches had confidence in me,” he said. “That made me play better.”