ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Navy senior quarterback Malcolm Perry has watched Bijan Nichols kick long field goals in practice ever since the freshman arrived at the academy over the summer.
Still, he wasn't taking any chances when Nichols lined up for a game-winner Saturday against Tulane.
"At the end of practice, everybody's screaming and everybody's trying to get in his head and try to emulate this situation on the field," Perry said. "I've seen him do it before, and I was really confident in him. But my eyes were closed. I was praying."
Perry's prayers — as well as the Midshipmen's — were answered when Nichols connected on a 48-yarder as time expired to help Navy edge the Green Wave 41-38 on Saturday.
"I had a really good feeling that our offense was going to get me in range, if not score, so I needed to be ready," Nichols said. "I just went through my normal routine and practiced what I always practice doing."
Nichols' kick — a yard shy of a career long — capped a seven-play drive to secure bowl eligibility for the Midshipmen (6-1, 4-1 American Athletic Conference) for the 15th time in 17 years.
Navy, which squandered a 24-0 lead against the Green Wave (5-3, 2-2), has doubled its win total from 2018, when it went 3-10 and endured its worst season since 2002.
"After last year, it's great to be bowl eligible," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "I'm never going to take that for granted again."
After Tulane tied it at 38 with 1:01 left, Perry rushed five times for 44 yards on the ensuing drive to set up Nichols' winner from the left hash.
"We wanted to get a stop there and go into overtime," Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. "I thought we were playing well, and I made a decision to play into overtime. We just did not tackle on a couple plays there at the end. If we would have gotten some tackles, they probably would have played for overtime, too."
Sophomore fullback Jamale Carothers rushed for a career-high 154 yards and accounted for four touchdowns and Perry rushed for 142 yards and threw for a touchdown for the Midshipmen.
Diego Fagot returned an interception for a touchdown late in the first half for Navy, which scored on its first four possessions and never trailed.
Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another two scores in the loss.
Carothers capped Navy's first two possessions with touchdown runs of 52 and 35 yards, running untouched into the end zone on both occasions. He then collected a 31-yard touchdown catch from Perry to cap the Mids' third series.
Navy would push the lead to 24-0, but Tulane stitched together a pair of second-quarter touchdown drives to climb back in it. The Green Wave was starting a push for another score just before halftime, but Fagot collected a carom off running back Tyjae Spears and returned it 17 yards for a score to make it 31-14 at the break.
Tulane drew closer on McMillan's short touchdown passes to Jaetavian Toles and Ygenio Booker in the third quarter. The Green Wave finally tied it on Merek Glover's 39-yard field goal with 10:17 to play.
Carothers scored his fourth touchdown of the day on a 15-yard rumble with 5:23 to go, but Tulane responded with McMillan's sneak with 1:01 remaining to tie it at 38. Navy then went 44 yards in less than a minute before Nichols trotted onto the field with 2 seconds left.
"He kicks 55-plus in practice," Niumatalolo said. "He gets the ball up, he gets the ball out fast. He's as talented as a kicker as we've ever had."
IT'S BEEN AWHILE
Fagot's interception return for a touchdown was Navy's first in 36 games. The last Mid to return an interception for a score was Justin Norton against Southern Methodist on Nov. 26, 2016.
After a slow start, Tulane finished with 187 rushing yards. It was the 48th consecutive game the Green Wave surpassed the 100-yard plateau, a streak that dates to 2015.
Tulane: After a promising 5-1 start, the Green Wave has dropped consecutive road games to AAC West contenders. Tulane will need help to climb back into contention in the division, but a second bowl berth in a row remains well within reach.
Navy: The Midshipmen are back to playing meaningful conference games in November like they did in 2015 and 2016, their first two years in the AAC. They still have a game against AAC West leader Southern Methodist, which visits Annapolis on Nov. 23.
Tulane: Returns home to face Tulsa next Saturday. The Green Wave is 4-11 all-time against the Golden Hurricane but has won the last two meetings.
Navy: At Connecticut on Friday. The struggling Huskies (2-6) have lost 15 consecutive American Athletic Conference games but handled Massachusetts 56-35 in a nonconference game Saturday.