Navy football punched its ticket to a bowl game Nov. 16, dismantling visiting South Alabama, 42-14, on Senior Day. The win gave the Midshipmen an undefeated season at home and earned them a berth in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 30.
For the Navy seniors, the victory during the final home game was important, senior defensive end Evan Palelei said.
"It was great," Palelei said. "It's one of those things that I didn't think was going to be a big deal. When I was actually there, on the field and realized it was the last time I was ever going to play in the stadium, it was a very emotional game. A lot of the young guys really knew what it would mean for us to go out on top, and they really put forth their best effort and played a really good game."
Following the South Alabama win, Palelei said, it was difficult for him and his fellow seniors to leave the stadium for the final time.
"There were a couple of us that were still in the locker room way after we had showered," Palelei said. "Our families were outside waiting, and we just didn't want to leave the locker room. My last time walking out of there -- I just wanted to enjoy the moment. We went out on top and defended the house all season. I was just proud and just a little bit sad that I would never be there again."
Palelei said that winning at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was about more than just football.
"It's the home of a lot more than a football team," Palelei said. "It's the home of the brotherhood. … You look up and you see all the different places that our servicemen have went and put their lives on the line. That always added a little more incentive to me to protect the house, because it was just doing right by all them and doing right by all those that came before us."
Navy will go on the road to face San Jose State Nov. 22, before meeting Army at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia Dec. 14 to wrap up the regular season. Palelei said Navy was focused on the game at hand, and not looking ahead to the Army game as the Midshipmen look to win three straight for the first time this season.
"We just have to prepare like we do every week," Palelei said. "I don't think anybody on the team looks at it as if we have to avoid a letdown or we have to ride this good wave. We just have to prepare every week, and if we don't give the right preparation, then, yeah, we will get a letdown.
"But we're just focused on our keys and on what we have to do to be a good team out there. We know it's possible that we walk out into a hornet's nest and they do some damage. I don't think we worried, per se, but we definitely understand how good the team is we're playing."
The San Jose State match-up will be a rare Friday nationally televised contest, airing on ESPN2.
"It's great," Palelei said. "Thinking all your friends that you went to high school with are sitting in their hotel room waiting to play their game and watching you. I'm excited, as I know a lot of the other guys are excited to play on Friday and show what we can do."