Navy's Dixon wants 'empty feeling' filled with victory

November 05, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

A year later, Damon Dixon still can see the pass coming, the one that looked as if it would complete a brilliant comeback by the Naval Academy.

Running a post-corner pattern against Tulane, he cradled the ball at the 6-yard line, shed a tackler at the 3 and lunged into the end zone for his first touchdown.

"I got into a void there, between the cornerback and safety," he said.

The play covered 28 yards and set off a wild celebration among the Midshipmen. Once down by 11 points in the fourth quarter, they had taken a 25-24 lead with 3:25 left, silencing the homecoming crowd at the Louisiana Superdome.

But here's where the memory becomes disturbing to Dixon, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior from Orinda, Calif.

The short kickoff. The improbable drive. The 43-yard field goal with no time remaining that gave Tulane a 27-25 win.

And, again, the empty feeling. "One minute, I'm on top of the world," he said, "and the next minute, we lose."

Navy returns to the Superdome tonight trying to avenge a defeat that coach George Chaump said "took a lot out of us emotionally." Both teams are 1-7.

Dixon is seeking redemption not only for last year's outcome, but for the way he was shackled by Notre Dame last week in a 58-21 loss. Seventh in career receptions for Navy with 84, Dixon was held to just one catch for 9 yards against the Irish.

Either quarterback Jim Kubiak was running for his life behind an inexperienced and ineffective offensive line or Dixon simply couldn't shake free.

"Notre Dame's defensive backs were the best we've played against so far. It was frustrating," Dixon said.

Tulane, coming off a 38-10 loss at Maryland, presents a chance for Dixon to begin salvaging what's left of the season.

Navy will have to win its three remaining games to match last year's 4-7 record, and Dixon will need to get busy if he's going to attain any of the goals he set during the summer.

He wanted to be an All-American, but says, "I don't think I've played to the potential of one." And he hoped to catch more than 100 passes over two seasons, but with 33 this year, he is in danger of falling short.

"Those are just little personal things, though, that don't mean anything," he said. "Obviously, our season has been tough."

And Dixon is one of the players hurting the most.

Last year, he caught 51 passes for 620 yards to lead Navy receivers, and his three touchdowns were second on the team.

His 10 receptions against Virginia in the season-opener tied a school record, but he drew even more notice with six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame.

This year, he has 299 yards and one touchdown -- credible numbers, but far shy of his expectations.

"We haven't been able to beat the blitz," Dixon said. "Jim hasn't had time, and the receivers haven't been getting open. It's not Jim's fault. He's got people hitting him left and right."

Navy receivers coach Sam Shaffer said Dixon is "playing great," and his statistics indicate teams are paying closer attention to him.

"Each year is different," Shaffer said. "He's a self-made player, and he gets better every day. He's better than he was last year, but he's more well-known and he's getting double-covered a lot."

Tulane's blitz will be taking aim at Kubiak once more. "They're going to play man. They're going to come at us, and we've got to be able to beat that," Dixon said.

"This is the biggest game of my life right now. We've got to win. We've got three games left and we want to go 3-0."

And Dixon wants to erase a bad memory.

* NOTES: This will be Navy's sixth visit to New Orleans to face Tulane. . . . The Midshipmen have 15 turnovers in their first eight games (10 interceptions, five fumbles), and opponents have scored 12 touchdowns. . . . Kubiak has been sacked 30 times. . . . Against Notre Dame, defensive back Gervy Alota had his first career interception, and split end Ross Scott and tight end Brian Grana caught the first touchdown passes in their college careers.

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