As if Navy's football team hasn't had enough trouble winning this season, it was confirmed yesterday that referees in the Midshipmen's 18-16 loss to Air Force on Saturday were mistaken in a controversial, fourth-quarter fumble call that allowed Air Force to kick the winning field goal with 49 seconds left.
Daniel E. Wooldridge, supervisor of officials for the Big East Conference, wrote in a letter to Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel that conversations with the game's referees and a review of game film persuaded him that a mistake was made.
"It is evident that . . . the ball was fumbled by Air Force and recovered by Navy," Wooldridge wrote. "Our ruling on this play was incorrect."
Air Force, which trailed 16-15, had the ball on the Navy 20-yard line with 57 seconds left.. On second down, Falcons quarterback Jarvis Baker appeared to drop the ball before being tackled. Navy safety Steve Lipsey recovered. Head linesman Thomas Stabile signaled a fumble, but referee John Smith ruled that Baker was down before he lost the ball.
Two plays later, Air Force kicked the winning field goal.
Navy spokesman Tom Bates said that neither Lengyel nor Navy coach George Chaump would make a public comment.