SEC Spring: Red Comes Out Victorious in Grove Bowl Thriller, 53-52

 OXFORD, Miss. – The Red team came out triumphant in the annual Grove Bowl presented by Mississippi HomeCare on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Navy team in a last-second comeback victory 53-52 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. 

"I thought it was a pretty exciting day, a lot of stuff going on, players making plays that were competitive. We moved the scoreboard there at the end to have some fun, make it a one-score game instead of a two-score game. It was good to see Jaxson and his team go down and I thought that was more important than a two-score game which would've been an irrelevant situation," said head coach Lane Kiffin. "I thought it was pretty neat, a lot of players making plays, some of the same guys you're familiar with." 

"A lot of work to do still. I think that the competitive idea of the draft, like we've done many times before, makes it really interesting and makes the players really into it when they pick their own head coaches and all that stuff. I was glad they were able to have fun, as well as be productive and get some good work done."

The quarterback competition was in full force as both offenses put up nearly 800 passing yards combined. The high-scoring affair brought out an action-packed offensive game with 11 total touchdowns.

Red caught air by leading the way with 403 total passing yards in the game, with 302 coming from Jackson Dart who went 18-for-37 of the day with a touchdown. Jordan Watkins was crucial for Red with eight catches for 149 yards and a touchdown on the offensive end. On the ground, Fred McAfee ran for 15 carries and 80 yards, scoring the game-winning touchdown for Red. 

Navy's Spencer Sanders put on a tough competition for Red with completing 19-of-27 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Michael Trigg and JJ Henry found their groove with their quarterbacks, both grabbing over 100 receiving yards. Ulysses Bentley IV had a big game on the rushing end, with 10 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown. 

Walker Howard, switching between Red and Navy, earned 101 passing yards off of 5-of-7 completions and two touchdowns for team Red. On the Navy side, he went a perfect 6-for-6, gaining 84 yards and an additional touchdown. 

Both teams put points on the board in their first drive of action. Red received the ball to start, driving down to the 16 before being forced to take a 28-yard field goal. Navy responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive to go up 7-3. Spencer Sanders threw for 49 yards and a touchdown to Trigg, going 4-for-5 passing.

On defense, Navy stuffed Red on fourth and one, getting the ball back on their own 48-yard line. Howard, in his first drive, rolled out to the right and found a wide-open Bentley for a 19-yard touchdown. Navy took the 14-3 with a minute left in the first quarter.

Red bounced back with two straight touchdown drives to take a 17-3 lead. The first drive, Dart found Judkins on a dump of pass to the right, which the rising sophomore ran into the endzone. The Red defense, despite giving up a 50-yard bomb to running back Bentley, interception a tipped pass in the endzone and ran it back to their own 44-yard line. Howard switched sides to play for Red, finishing the drive with a 25-yard touchdown to Jalen Knox on another roll out to his right.

In the ensuing drive, Sanders and Navy put air under the ball to take back the lead. Sanders started with four straight passes for 65 yards to get inside the opponent's 10-yard line. Two plays later, he ran in for the touchdown from six yards out, taking back the lead 21-17. Navy's defense held its end, giving the ball right back to the offense. Bentley ran 40-yards for the score, extending the Navy lead to by 11.

Red moved into Navy's 10-yard line but had to settle for a 28-yard field goal. Navy also was forced to take a field goal the begin the second half after the Red defense swatted a pass on the eight-yard line.

With Howard back in at quarterback for Red connected down to Watkins, who took it 63 yards to the house. The two reconnected for the three-yard two-point conversion, drawing closer to Navy.

Navy responded by methodically driving down the field as Sanders converted the fourth and goal, threading the ball between two defenders to Brandon Buckhalter. Red scored the next drive before the third quarter ended to make it a 38-35 game.

Sanders opened the fourth, going 5-for-6 for 65 yards and a touchdown. After Red answered with a 45-yard run from McAffee and field goal, Sanders found himself in the endzone once again. He threw two passes for 34 yards and ran three times for 19 yards, including the 2-yard touchdown run.

Red down 52-38, received seven additional points to start their final drive to simulate a two-minute drill. 

Beginning at the 25-yard line, Red began their drive down the field. Dart threw a 25-yard dart to get to the half field. Two plays later, the rising junior threw an additional pass to get inside the Navy 10. The sidelines got heated and following penalties, 

McAffee got the one-yard rushing touchdown to cut Navy's lead to one. Red converted on the two-point conversion with a pass from Dart to Watkins to earn the disputed win, 53-52. 

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