ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The new-look Navy football team passed its first test with flying colors.
Nelson Smith ran for 96 yards with three touchdowns, Diego Fagot had nine tackles and the Midshipmen dominated Holy Cross 45-7 in the regular-season opener Saturday.
"I thought it was a great team win," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "I thought we played well today. We still have a lot of room for improvement. You can't take any of these wins for granted."
One of Niumatalolo's main areas of focus is improving the passing offense, which ranked last (130th) among FBS programs, averaging 72.8 passing yards per game in 2018. He wants to attack teams with elements of the run-and-shoot and Navy gained 103 yards through the air Saturday.
After passing for just 12 yards through much of the first half, Malcolm Perry found Mychal Cooper for a 44-yard gain in the final minute. Two plays later, Perry scored from the 1, boosting the lead to 24-7 and the Midshipmen were never threatened the rest of the way.
Perry was 6 of 9 for 103 yards and a 162.8 quarterback rating.
"Obviously, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't my best performance," said Perry. "But I was pleased to be able to go out there and throw the ball."
Navy still builds its offense around the triple-option and amassed 428 yards on the ground against the Crusaders.
"It was an exciting feeling," said slotback CJ Williams, who finished with 91 yards and a touchdown. "We've had a lot of hard work. We trusted our training."
The Midshipmen plan to be more aggressive under new defensive coordinator Brian Newberry and finished with three sacks, seven tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
"I made a ton of mistakes personally. We're 1-0 and we just have to keep getting better everyday," Fagot said.
Quarterback Connor Degenhardt was 16 of 29 for 167 yards for Holy Cross, a member of the Patriot League in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Running back Domenic Cozier, who led Holy Cross with 643 yards rushing and eight touchdowns last season, did not play because of an illness. Miles Alexander filled the void and had a 16-yard touchdown run that cut the margin to 17-7 late in the first quarter.
"I think we shot ourselves in the foot at times," Holy Cross coach Bob Chesney said. "I thought we had a chance to hang with them a little bit at the beginning."
Bijan Nichols is the first freshman to start as the placekicker for Navy since Nick Sloan in 2012. Nichols converted a 44-yard field-goal attempt late in the first quarter that provided a 10-0 lead.
Holy Cross: The Crusaders have four starters back on the defense that is expected to be among the best in their conference. This unit forced a turnover and were constantly tested by Navy's high-powered attack, which should bode well moving forward.
Navy: The Midshipmen took their first step toward bouncing back from a disappointing 2018 season when they went 3-10, losing to both Army and Air Force. It was their fewest wins since 2002. Niumatalolo hired seven new coaches to get back on track.
Holy Cross: The Crusaders play the second of four straight non-conference games against visiting New Hampshire on Sept. 7.
Navy: The Midshipmen have a week off before opening conference play against visiting East Carolina on Sept. 14.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25