Dykes’ gamble leads to SMU’s first win over Navy since 1998

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Sonny Dykes finally got the monkey off of his back.

In his fifth game as head coach Dykes led his team to a 31-30 win over Navy, marking the first time the Mustangs have defeated the Midshipmen since 1998. With the win, the Mustangs took possession of the Gansz Trophy for the first time since it was created in 2009.

“These guys are really a hard team to beat,” Dykes said. “I know they are because we haven’t done it in 20 years. We played for a trophy that our players have never even seen before.”

But it wasn’t an easy win for the Mustangs. SMU failed to convert on fourth down twice inside of the Navy 20-yard line and turned the ball over once at the Navy 34. SMU should have been up by ten points after Reggie Roberson returned a Midshipmen kickoff 98 yards to for a score to go up 23-14, but Navy blocked the ensuing extra point and returned it for a two-point conversion, making the score 23-16.

“They block the extra point, run it back,” Dykes said. “Now instead of a 10-point game and Navy being in a little bit of a bind because of their style of offense, it’s a seven-point game.”

They found a spark from an unlikely source. Quarterback Ben Hicks, who had been benched in favor of freshman Will Brown in the second half of SMU’s 45-20 loss to Michigan, came in during the overtime period and completed all three of his passes, including a four-yard strike to James Proche that pulled SMU within one point in overtime.

“We just felt like we needed to throw the ball and Ben has just played more,” Dykes said. “You’ve got to give Ben Hicks an enormous amount of credit, just his character for losing his job a week ago and coming back today and leading us to victory. I just can’t tell you enough about him and how he handled it and what that meant for us.”

On the ensuing conversion, Dykes opted to go for two and the win instead of kicking the extra point that would have tied the game. He and Rhett Lashlee, SMU’s offensive coordinator, decided to use a trick play called “Oregon” that Dykes had found on Google during his time as Cal’s head coach. His quarterback was pleased by the decision. He was thinking the same thing.

“Right after we scored, I looked at him and said two,” Hicks said. “And he was telling me left hash so I knew we were going for two, and I knew what play was coming because we’ve been working on that.”

Hicks found Hunter Thedford, a tight end who was recruited to play defensive end at SMU, in the corner of the end zone on the two-point try to give SMU the win. But it didn’t come without controversy, as officials huddled together near the five-yard line to discuss whether the play had been legal or not. The source of the dispute was Chad Pursley, an offensive lineman who had lined up as a receiver and raised his hands up as a decoy, calling for the football. After several minutes the officials announced that it was a legal play and that SMU had won, sending the Mustangs’ sideline into a frenzy.

In the locker room after the game, Dykes led his players in a rendition of “Pony Battle Cry,” SMU’s fight song, showing a rare smile as he watched his players yell the song’s lyrics at the top of their lungs.

“I’m just happy for them,” he said “They’ve worked really hard. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.”

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