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Houston Cougars bounce back with championship game berth at stake

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After receiving their first loss of the season, the Houston Cougars were focused as the Navy Midshipmen dropped anchor at TDECU Stadium for the season finale.

After a special appearance from former president George H. W. Bush for the coin toss, Houston resembled the unit that was showcased at the beginning of season. QB Greg Ward Jr wasted no time to drive down the field to score a touchdown on their first possession.

But, this wasn’t a win that was going to come easily. On their first possession, Navy’s Keenam Reynolds led the Midshipmen through the Cougars’ using its three-option offense to tie the score.

The Cougars weren’t easily intimidated by the Midshipmen’s offensive prowess as Houston took the field once more. Ward closed a long drive with a pass to Brandon Wilson for a 17-yard touchdown to retake the lead by the end of the first.

The Midshipmen would keep the game interesting as they answered with a touchdown six minutes into the second quarter. However, the Cougars kept the Midshipmen at bay until the end of the half, while adding 10 points of their own, to sit on a comfortable 24-14 lead.

“Credit to coaching staff; credit to players; credit to leaders,” said head coach Tom Herman. “There was no doubt in my mind when I walked off the field Wednesday after practice, I said, there’s something going on here where these guys are dialed in; they’re locked in.”

The Cougars would continue to maximize on their lead after the break.

Not even a full minute after kick off, Houston’s Trevor Stewart picked Reynolds at Navy’s 33-yard line. The Cougars benefited by driving into Navy territory and scoring with a pass to WR Linell Bonner from the Midshipmen’s four-yard line.

Ward, who was sidelined against Connecticut due to an ankle injury, performed well against a good Navy defense by throwing for three touchdowns, 308 yards, completing 26 out of 35 attempts and giving up only one sack.

Then on, it would be a series of unfortunate events for Navy, as Houston’s defense was able to hold them to just three points throughout the third quarter.

Houston would continue to score in a relentless effort.

Sitting on 3-and-5 at their on 38-yard line, Ward threw a middle pass to WR Demarcus Ayers for a one hand leap, running it for 62-yards to extend the lead 38-17.

“Not surprising, I’ve seen him do that in practice all the time,” said Herman. “He’s becoming a much better open field runner and most importantly a better route runner.”

Both teams would put on a performance for the crowd as they scored two touchdowns each in the fourth, but a show was all it was as Houston held on to win 52-31.

The Cougars improve to 11-1 on the season and punch in their ticket to the AAC championship game. Houston will prepare for the American East Division winner, Temple Owls, as they host them for the championship game this Saturday morning.

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