Saturday Takeaways: Seniors leave Navy blue in final home game
That’s all she wrote for football’s 2017 regular season as the Cougars wrapped up play by defeating the Navy Midshipmen on Senior Day at TDECU Stadium. The win, although holding little meaning for the already bowl-eligible Cougars, went a long way in restoring fortitude following a disappointing loss to Tulane a week earlier.
Per Senior Day tradition, a pregame ceremony was held to honor the 26 seniors seeing their last collegiate action against Navy on Saturday. One by one, the Cougars’ longest tenured players exited the home team’s tunnel — taking in the sights, sounds and smells of gameday one last time.
‘It means a lot’
For many members of the class of 2018, Saturday’s win served as a bookend to an already unforgettable run. In all, the senior class won 36 games together, just one win shy of tying the record set by last year’s class.
“It means a lot to me to win for the team and for the seniors. We’ve been through a lot,” said senior receiver Steven Dunbar after recording his sixth 100-yard receiving game of his college career. “We’ve been through coaching changes, and we’ve seen this stadium change, so it’s emotional knowing it’s your last time playing here. We went out on top with the win.”
As if Senior Day wasn’t memorable enough, Dunbar capped off the special day with a 61-yard touchdown reception that put his team ahead 21-14 with just 14 minutes to play. The score was the 11th of the 6-foot-3-inch senior’s impressive career.
Offensive star goes down
Opposite of Dunbar, fellow fourth-year wideout Linell Bonner exited the game in the second half following a violent collision with a Navy defender. Bonner left under his own power and was seen on the sideline wearing a sling following a trip to the locker room, eliminating initial fears of a possible head injury.
Following the game, head coach Major Applewhite updated Bonner’s status.
“He was having some problems breathing after the hit,” Applewhite said. “His head was fine. There was no concussion symptoms. I’m not sure exactly the diagnosis of the injury. He just wasn’t able to come back.”
Bonner went down having already been productive, catching eight passes for 98 yards – just short of his ninth 100-plus yard receiving effort in 31 career games.
Missing an offensive weapon in Bonner’s absence, the Cougars relied on their defense to seal the win over the weekend.
Hines-sight is 20/20
Senior linebacker D’Juan Hines’ breakout senior season has raised eyebrows across the country, and the Spring native’s effort Saturday showed why.
Hines recorded 11 tackles, including a season high 2.5 tackles for a loss, and deflected one of just eight total passes thrown by the Midshipmen on Saturday. The senior’s performance against Navy is his fourth game with double-digit tackles this season and the fifth of his career.
After Navy sailed out to a 14-7 halftime lead, Hines says he and the rest of the Cougars’ defense refocused at the half. The unit went on to stifle the Midshipmen’s prolific rushing attack, pitching a shutout in the final 30 minutes and sending the senior defenders off with a home victory.
“We settled in, took the coaching adjustments, and it was lights out from there,” Hines said.
When Hines and his fellow seniors don the Cougars’ uniform for the final time next month, they’ll do so searching for a third bowl win for their cohort — a feat yet to be accomplished by a senior class at UH, according to College Football Reference.
With the win, Houston finishes its regular season campaign at 7-4 ahead of the team’s sixth bowl appearance in the last seven years. The Cougars’ current streak of five consecutive bowl appearances matches the longest run of postseason success in team history, tying the 2005 to 2009 Houston teams.
Spanning from Hawaii to Florida, the American Athletic Conference has tie-ins to seven bowls between Dec. 16 and Dec. 28. Bowl matchups will be unveiled by the Football Bowl Association on Sunday.
Applewhite said that the team will shift its focus to the classroom where the student-athletes will round out the semester with final exams before returning to the field Dec. 4 to begin postseason preparations.
“It’s great,” Applewhite said. “It’s great for Houston, it’s great for our fans and our players to experience a bowl game, especially the newcomers and the seniors going out. They’ll finish with a bowl game.”