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Navy edges Kansas State in Liberty Bowl

AP

Navy built the biggest turnaround of any team in college football this season by relying on the nation’s most prolific rushing attack.

So, naturally, the 21st-ranked Midshipmen won the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday by completing a fourth-down halfback option pass in the final minute.

CJ Williams’ 41-yard completion to Chance Warren on fourth-and-3 gave Navy first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. After quarterback Malcolm Perry spiked the ball, Bijan Nichols kicked a 23-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to give Navy a 20-17 victory over Kansas State.

“Sometimes you just go with your gut,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “You have all this analytics stuff and all these sheets, but sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut and roll with it.”

Perry was named the Liberty Bowl most valuable player after rushing for 213 yards and throwing a touchdown pass.

Perry ran for 2,017 yards this year to set a Football Bowl Subdivision record by a quarterback. The mark had been owned by Jordan Lynch, who ran for 1,920 yards for Northern Illinois in 2013.

“I still really can’t believe it,” Perry said.

But the ball was only briefly in Perry’s hands on the play that mattered most of all.

Twenty-nine seconds remained when Navy (11-2) snapped the ball at the Kansas State 46. Perry pitched right to Williams, who found Warren racing wide open down the right side of the field.

“The corner was really aggressive, ran right past me, so I knew I’d be wide open,” said Warren, who also scored on a 20-yard reverse in the third quarter. “I just tried to make a play on the ball, come down with it and set the team up for success.”

That big play left things up to Nichols, who missed a 38-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter. This time, Nichols stayed poised and made the kick even after Kansas State (8-5) called three straight timeouts in an attempt to ice him.

“Obviously you never want to miss,” Nichols said. “But when you do, you need to make sure you bounce back, so I was glad to have another opportunity to do that.”

A most fitting way to end a bounce-back season.

After going 3-10 last year, Navy matched the second-biggest season-to-season improvement in win-loss record of any team in Football Bowl Subdivision history. Hawaii went 9-4 in 1999 after finishing 0-12 in 1998.

Navy tied a program record for wins. The Mids also went 11-2 in 2015.

“Everything that’s happened this year is not surprising to me because they did the work, they paid the price,” Niumatalolo said. “They did everything that was asked of them. I couldn’t be more happy for a group of young men.”

In Other Games

Belk Bowl

Kentucky 37, Virginia Tech 10

Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

Arizona State 20, Florida State 14

Arizona Bowl

Wyoming 38, Georgia State 17