Duke Blue Devils linebacker Deion Williams (48) pressures Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) as he reaches for extra yards in their game at Wallace Wade Stadium. (Mark Dolejs / USA Today)
DURHAM, N.C. — Navy coach Ken Niumatololo didn’t even try to sugarcoat this one.
The Midshipmen had as many turnovers as they had in their three other games — combined. They kept drawing penalty flags but their offense couldn’t get anything going in the second half.
It all added up to a 35-7 loss to Duke on Saturday that their coach called “one of the worst days that Navy football’s had in a long, long time.”
“We got our butts whipped all the way around,” Niumatololo said. “We got outcoached, we got outplayed. It’s been a long time since we got beat that bad.”
A top-30 pass defense that entered allowing 205.5 yards passing per game allowed Anthony Boone to throw for three touchdowns and a career-high 295 yards in his first game back from a broken collarbone.
Navy (3-2) managed just 73 total yards in the second half, had a season-high three turnovers and matched another season high with five penalties. The Midshipmen entered as the nation’s least-penalized team, averaging 2.25 flags.
Darius Staten had a 7-yard touchdown run for the Midshipmen, who were denied their first 4-1 start since 2006 and haven’t beaten the Blue Devils since 2007.
They blew a prime scoring chance in the final seconds of the first half when quarterback Keenan Reynolds fumbled at the Duke 10 while under intense pressure from Kenny Anunike, and they never seriously threatened again.
“The fumble was a bad decision,” Reynolds said. “I was trying to make a play. … We could’ve set something up and come out with at least three points. It was just bad on my part.”
Boone, who was out for three games with the broken collarbone, found out he was starting roughly 10 minutes before kickoff. His replacement, Brandon Connette, tweaked an ankle and wound up unable to play.
“The beauty of Anthony is that he had no idea he was going to start — nor did we until Brandon … just said he can’t go,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “Anthony just slipped in like he hadn’t missed a beat.”
He was 31 of 38 for Duke (4-2) with TDs covering 27 and 18 yards to Isaac Blakeney and 3 yards to Max McCaffrey.
“The whole week, I kind of just was feeling good, and they said, ‘We might get you in for a couple of reps,’” Boone said. “The more I could get on balls and throw during practice, the more I felt more comfortable,” he added. “I said, ‘OK, I’m ready to play.’”
Jela Duncan had a 5-yard scoring run and Shaquille Powell ran 7 yards for a TD for Duke, which rolled up 435 total yards and pulled away with touchdowns on five of its first six possessions after the first quarter.
Boone was back on the field five weeks after he was hurt in the win at Memphis, and looked quite at ease while improving his career record as a starter to 4-0.
He didn’t take his first hit until Duke’s second possession — it didn’t seem to bother him at all — and he had little trouble moving the Blue Devils up and down the field while completing 16 of his first 19 passes.
Boone threw for touchdowns on consecutive second-quarter series, first putting the Blue Devils up 7-0 when he hit a wide-open Blakeney for a long, easy touchdown. He followed that by dropping an over-the-shoulder toss into McCaffrey’s hands to put Duke ahead to stay at 14-7 with 4:35 left in the half.
“After the first quarter, I felt very comfortable,” Boone said. “The first couple of series was kind of like flying bullets, getting used to things flying around, the speed of the game. ... After a while, though, it just kind of came back to the natural feel of the game.”
Duke converted 10 of 16 third downs and a pair of fourth downs.
“We had trouble getting them off the field on third down. They just found holes,” Navy linebacker DJ Sargenti said. “You can’t point fingers. It’s the whole defense’s fault. You just have to move on.”
Navy’s only touchdown came late in the second quarter, when the Midshipmen found a way to run around the ends.
Staten took a pitch around the left side for a score moments after the Midshipmen ran three straight pitches around right end — and Marcus Thomas took the last one 47 yards to the Duke 12.