ANNAPOLIS -- For one half, the afternoon seemed promising for Navy, as the defense put the clamps on the nation's third-best rushing attack, and a surprise starter at quarterback did a fairly good job running the offense.
But, as Air Force convincingly displayed, football is a 60-minute game.
After taking a one-point halftime lead, the Falcons scored 39 points in the second half and wound up with 388 yards rushing -- a record at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium -- in a runaway 46-6 win before a standing-room crowd of 35,640.
What the second-biggest crowd in stadium history witnessed in the second half was a wishbone offense working on all cylinders. The Falcons (6-1) rushed for 264 yards in the final 30 minutes, as five different players found the end zone to help continue the 1991 nightmare for the Midshipmen (0-5).
"You saw two ballgames out there," Navy coach George Chaump said. "We just fell apart. You saw too many young mistakes, and you can't do that against a good football team."
The best way to illustrate how badly the Midshipmen fell apart was the field position the Falcons started with in the second half when they scored on six of their nine drives (they failed to score from the Navy 1-yard line on one series). The combination of four interceptions, one fumble and horrible punting contributed to Air Force starting seven of those nine drives in Navy territory.
"If we didn't have terrible field position and turnovers, we could have competed favorably," Chaump said. "We never had any kind of field position in the third quarter. Our punting game is not consistent. And, with the turnovers, that's the ballgame."
Just how bad was Navy's second-half field position? To put it simply, if the goal line was at midfield, the Midshipmen still would have been without a touchdown. In eight second-half possessions, the Midshipmen did not cross the 50-yard line.
"Our defense played outstanding," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, whose team held Wyoming to minus-7 yards rushing a week ago. "They played on the Navy side of the football. I'm really proud of this football team."
DeBerry got a shock in the first half when Navy started the game with plebe quarterback Jim Kubiak, who was making his debut in a varsity uniform. Kubiak completed three of four passes on Navy's first series, although the drive ended with Navy punting.
"We had no idea they would start a different quarterback," DeBerry said. "We had to change a lot of our defense and revert back to the scheme we played last week."
While Air Force was making changes, Navy's first points (the Midshipmen have scored first in all five games) came after plebe cornerback Chris Hart, making his first start, intercepted a Rob Perez pass and returned it to the Air Force 21. Four plays later, Brad Stramanak scored from the 1 -- he's now scored in all five of his career starts -- and Navy had a 6-0 lead halfway through the first quarter (the extra point was blocked).
Halfback Obasi Onuoha capped a 54-yard drive with a 1-yard run early in the second quarter to give Air Force to a 7-6 lead. That's the way the half ended, with the Midshipmen pleased to hold a team averaging 30 points a game to just one touchdown.
It took just the first drive of the second half for Air Force to put the game away. Two plays after Kubiak fumbled while dropping back to pass, fullback Jason Jones scored on a 7-yard run for a 14-6 lead. Navy's next drive ended with a 16-yard punt by Tom Frosch (nine punts, 27.3 average), and seven plays later Joe Wood kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 17-6.
By the end of the quarter, Perez completed a 42-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Thomas to cap an 18-point third quarter that gave Air Force a 25-6 lead. By the end of the game Air Force had its
third-string players in, with running back David Brynteson scoring the first touchdown of his career to cap all scoring in the fourth quarter.
"It took a while for our offense to warm up," DeBerry said. "After we got zeroed in on what they were doing defensively, we took control."
Navy's defense has been criticized for poor play this year, but surprisingly the 46 points scored by Air Force was not their fault. Playing against a team that threw just six passes, the defense played well, only to constantly find itself in poor field position in the second half.
"I thought the defense did a good job defending the option," Chaump said. "Their scoring 46 points is very misleading. Our turnovers were deep in our own territory, and that hurt."
With their worst start since 1987 (when they finished 2-9), the Midshipmen will attempt to get their first win at Temple next week. Although Navy lost by a large margin, Chaump was encouraged by the play of some of the youngsters representing Navy's future.
"We had five freshmen in the lineup. They have the ability to win, but I don't know if they have the ability to make mistakes and win," Chaump said.
And, in the end, he was pleased with the effort by Kubiak, who just may get another start Saturday at Temple. "They use a gambling defense and we started him because we felt he was the man who could face it best," Chaump said. "If that's your best, then that's what you have to go with. Someday, he'll be an excellent quarterback."