COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- As Navy wide receiver Jerry Dawson was leaving Falcon Stadium after yesterday's 24-7 loss to Air Force, the look on his face told the story of four years of frustration against the Falcons.
"It's the worst feeling you can have, going four years and not being able to beat a team," Dawson said. "It's just the worst feeling you can imagine."
Along with the bad feeling goes the --ing of Navy's Liberty Bowl hopes as Air Force (3-3) continued its dominance by winning its ninth straight game over the Midshipmen (2-3), before 50,821. The service academy with the best record in head-to-head games gets a Liberty Bowl bid.
"How do I feel? Terrible. I don't think any of our coaches feel good," said Navy coach George Chaump after watching his team drop its second straight game. "As coaches, we have to get going and salvage what's left of the season. We have to take adversity like men, and do something about it."
Like play good football, something Navy hasn't done much of this season. Navy entered the game averaging 168.8 rushing yards per game, but ended the day with 31 yards on 31 attempts. Gary McIntosh, who quit the team before the season because he wasn't named the starter, got his chance in place of the injured Alton Grizzard.
He completed 15 of 32 passes for 210 yards, but most of that yardage came after the outcome was decided in a game that featured five turnovers and 14 penalties.
Air Force never looked back after Chris Howard scored on a 1-yard run on the team's first play from scrimmage to grab a 7-0 lead just 1 minute, 53 seconds seconds into the game. The Falcons got good field position after Jefferson Triplett's punt was blocked by the Falcons' Mike Rodgers at the end of Navy's first drive and recovered by Joe Stattmiller.
"I feel very fortunate that we blocked that kick early in the game," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who improved his record over Navy to 7-0. "That really gave us some momentum."
If that was momentum, it was not very apparent. Air Force was unable to put two first downs together on any drive until until midway through the third quarter.
The Falcons did get two field goals of 34 and 32 yards by Joe Wood in the second quarter that helped Air Force to a 13-0 halftime lead.
Navy made two turnovers in the first half, and was hurt by a load of mental mistakes. Poor blocking on the punt allowed the first Air Force score. Wood's first field goal came after a fumble by McIntosh. And Wood's second field goal came after Navy players retreated from an onside kick that was caught by the Falcons' Shanon Yates after traveling 18 yards.
Still, Navy was in the game and could have been within a touchdown had Frank Schenk not missed field-goal tries of 41 and 52 yards in the first half.
But Navy's poor play continued while Air Force got a lift from backup quarterback Rob Perez, who scored on a 1-yard run with 1:42 left in the third quarter. With a two-point conversion, Air Force had a 21-0 lead. Perez had entered the game midway through the third quarter in place of Jarvis Baker.
"Jarvis was having troubles with his read, so we went with Rob," DeBerry said. "[Perez] certainly won't outrun anybody, but he has the ability to cut it up inside and that makes him effective."
Navy's Jason Pace would score on a 1-yard run with 9:13 left to cut the lead to 21-7, but a 47-yard field goal by Wood with 5:34 left ended the scoring.
"Our defensive front did a great job of putting pressure on the Navy quarterback," said DeBerry. "I'm very proud of our seniors. I have the deepest respect for them because they have never lost to Navy. This win certainly keeps us alive for the number one goal or our football program -- winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy."
That's a goal Navy now has little chance to attain. Grizzard, Navy's all-time offensive leader who missed the game after suffering a bruised right lung last week against Boston College, watched the action helplessly from the sideline.
"It's hard not playing period, and especially in a big game like Air Force," Grizzard said. "It's hard to accept from doctors that something is wrong when you don't feel anything is wrong."
While Air Force faces a quarterback controversy next week, Navy probably won't have that problem against Akron next week dTC if Grizzard is healthy. McIntosh looked good throwing the ball late in the game, but he still threw three interceptions and had his difficulties when it counted.
"I felt well prepared and I had a good week in practice," McIntosh said. "Our guys did a good job blocking. Things just didn't work out the way we wanted it to."