Air Force FG downs Navy, 18-16 Last-minute kick stings Midshipmen

October 11, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- One by one the Navy players and coaches filed out of the locker room, each with his head down and with his face showing disbelief. The team had done something yesterday that it had down in four previous games this season -- it lost. But yesterday's outing against Air Force was much more difficult to stomach.

Difficult because the Midshipmen actually had a one-point lead in the game's final minute, only to have their hopes --ed by Air Force's Chris MacInnis who -- in his first career attempt -- kicked a 38-yard field goal with 49 seconds left that gave the Falcons an 18-16 win before 47,687 at Falcon Stadium.

There were an abundance of shocked faces on the Navy sideline as Air Force (5-1), won a game decided by two or fewer points for the second time in three weeks. Navy (0-5) had to endure a long charter flight home knowing that its bid for the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy -- awarded to the winner of the series between Navy, Army and Air Force -- came up empty in a game that should have been won.

"It's the worst loss I've ever experienced in my life," said Navy quarterback Jason Van Matre, who completed seven of 14 passes for 176 yards. "We busted our butts on both offense and defense. We just didn't have enough points."

Navy apparently thought it did after Tim Rogers -- who missed a 21-yard field goal in the third quarter -- kicked a 28-yard field goal with 4:58 left that gave the Midshipmen a 16-15 lead. It was Navy's first lead of the season and, with its defense to that point pitching a shutout against the potent Air Force wishbone attack, its players were thinking victory.

But Air Force was able to come up with the big plays -- a trait that Navy coach George Chaump has longed in his players -- on its very next drive that provided the game-winning score. First the Falcons got good field position after Chris Washington's 36-yard kickoff return. Then, faced with third and 10 from the Navy 38, Air Force quarterback Jarvis Baker threw a short pass to Clarence Hopkins who appeared to be stopped four yards short of a first down. Instead Hopkins shook off two Navy tacklers, gained 14 yards and a first down to keep the drive alive.

The drive reached the Navy 21-yard line. On fourth down -- after an extra-point attempt and a field-goal attempt by starting place-kicker Matt Glover had been blocked earlier -- Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry sent in junior MacInnis for his first career field goal attempt. Chaump tried to ice MacInnis with two time

outs, but the 38-yard kick went straight through the uprights for an 18-16 Air Force lead.

"We wanted to get them thinking about it," Chaump said of the two timeouts. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

After the kickoff, with 39 seconds left, Navy was faced with a long game-winning drive with just one timeout left. Such a drive did not develop as a confused Navy team wasted three straight plays. A fourth-down catch by Anthony Gilless was ruled incomplete because his feet landed out of bounds. Air Force had the ball and the victory.

"We weren't very organized at all and a lot of it was my fault," Van Matre said of Navy's last possession. "We tried to get off some quick passes. We got in a hole, and we had to try to go for some long passes."

The Midshipmen spent much of the day putting themselves in a hole. In the first quarter, a blocked punt by Air Force cornerback Carlton McDonald (his third blocked kick of the season, and the eighth blocked kick of his career) gave Air Force a 2-0 lead. Baker's 35-yard touchdown run that gave Air Force a 9-0 lead came one play after halfback Obasi Onuoha -- apparently stopped by two Navy defenders well short of a first down on a third-and-15 play -- gained 20 yards and a first down.

But Navy's costliest mistake was made by Michael Jefferson minutes after he caught a 63-yard scoring pass from Van Matre that pulled Navy to 9-7 in the second quarter. Air Force was forced to punt on its next possession, and Jefferson, Navy's punt returner, tried to grab the punt after letting it bounce twice. Jefferson fumbled, and Lou Yeager recovered at the 16-yard line for Air Force. The Falcons then scored on a 5-yard run by Onuoha that increased the lead to 15-7. Navy blocked Glover's point-after attempt.

"It was going deep in our territory, I didn't want us to get in bad field position," Jefferson said of the fumble. "I had it -- I just got hit after I caught it, and it got jarred loose. I should have just fallen forward."

The missed field goal by Rogers in the third quarter was also costly. Navy, which had pulled to 15-13 after Rogers made field goals of 33 and 32 yards, was on the verge of taking a lead with a 21-yard attempt from the right hash mark with 4:31 left in the third quarter. Instead the kick sailed wide right.

"It didn't matter which hash mark I kick from, I just missed it," said Rogers, who had hit his previous two from the left side. "I picked up my head at the last second. I saw [McDonald] coming out of the corner of my eye, and I missed it."

But MacInnis hit his when it counted for the game-winning points.

"It's a great feeling -- it's what kickers live for," MacInnis said. "I just relaxed and kicked it. The [Navy timeouts] helped me because when you rush out and just kick, it's stressful. It gave me time to relax, and I knew my team had confidence in me."

Navy may have left here with increased confidence after the two-point lose, but the sting of its fifth straight loss remains.

The Midshipmen will have a little time to think about this one, returning to action in two weeks at home against Delaware.

"We're getting better," Chaump said. "I'm proud of our kids. We're better than people think we are."

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