The Midshipmen rallied from a 20-point deficit in the final 14 minutes, then used a 1-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Ricky Dobbs in the first overtime to defeat mistake-prone Temple 33-27 Saturday.
It is believed to be the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in Navy history.
Dobbs threw for one score and ran for another to help the Midshipmen (6-3) become bowl eligible. After the game, Navy accepted an invitation to play in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl in the nation's capital on Dec. 20.
Two critical miscues late in the game cost Temple (3-6). Navy scored the tying touchdown on the return of a fumble by Owls running back Kee-ayre Griffin with 37 seconds left, and Temple tight end Steve Maneri dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone during overtime.
Temple also botched a conversion in the fourth quarter and lost a fumble near the Navy goal-line late in the first half.
"We dropped a touchdown, fumbled the football, missed an extra point, fumbled on the 10-yard line in the second quarter," lamented coach Al Golden. "That's the difference in the game."
The loss ruined a fine day by Adam DiMichele, who went 21-for-28 for a career-high 340 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair of 49-yarders to Bruce Francis.
Ranked 118th in the nation in total offense, Temple amassed 409 yards. But it wasn't enough.
Navy trailed 27-7 with 13:41 left before mounting a stunning comeback behind Dobbs, who replaced injured starter Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada with five minutes left in the third quarter.
First, Dobbs threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Thiel with 9:16 left. Then, after a Temple punt, Eric Kettani capped a 64-yard drive with a 1-yard, fourth-down touchdown run with 2:52 to go. The conversion was blocked, keeping the score 27-20.
Navy decided against an onside kick, and Temple appeared to have held on after making a first down. But on third down with less than a minute left, Griffin tried to squeeze some extra yardage out of a meaningless play designed to eat up the clock.
Big mistake. Navy linebacker Ross Pospisil pried the ball loose and teammate Clint Sovie took it 42 yards for a touchdown. Matt Harmon's extra point was good, setting up overtime.
"Certainly we could have kneeled down, but you give it to the running back, tell him to put two hands on it. That's what running backs do," Golden said. "I told him to go down if he gets held up."
Pospisil said, "I was surprised they ran it. I thank God they did."
Said Sovie: "I thought he was down. I just saw the ball, picked it up and started running."
For an instant, Niumatalolo considered going for a two-point conversion to win it. Then he decided against it. "I wanted to take them to overtime because we had them reeling," he said. "Things turned out well for us."
After a first half that ended tied at 7, the Owls took the second-half kickoff and went ahead when Francis slipped behind Ketric Buffin before making a diving catch in the end zone.
Later in the third quarter, DiMichele faked a dive on a third-and-2, dropped back and connected with a wide-open Francis for another 49-yard touchdown. On Temple's next possession, Griffin scored on a 16-yard run.
"Things looked very bleak there," Niumatalolo said. "But our kids continued to fight to the end."
Navy opened the game with a 79-yard drive that consumed more than six minutes. Kettani carried five times for 49 yards, converting a fourth-and-1 along the way, before Kaheaku-Enhada ran it in from the 2.
It was the ninth time in nine games the Midshipmen scored on their first possession.
DiMichele then went 5-for-5 for 69 yards during a 74-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Maneri.
The back-and-forth flurry ended there.