Mids' Bucchianeri gets leg up on 2nd chance

November 23, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Every day since spring football drills began April 9, Navy coach George Chaump has started practice in Annapolis by placing a ball on the right hash mark of the 8-yard line.

Sophomore place-kicker Ryan Bucchianeri carefully marks off his steps and remembers to keep his head down as holder Tony Solliday receives the snap and sets the ball in proper kicking position. Bucchianeri then swings his right foot through and the ball almost invariably splits the goal posts.

"I'd say we've had close to 90 practices this season," said Chaump, "and I recall Ryan making every field goal but one."

Last year at The Meadowlands, a kick from the same angle and distance by Bucchianeri sailed wide right in the last six seconds and allowed Army to prevail, 16-14.

Bucchianeri, a sophomore who seems mature beyond his 19 years, does not regard his daily ritual as a way of trying to make amends with his coach and teammates.

"Actually, I see it as positive reinforcement," said the 5-foot-8, 152-pound kicker. "The first time Coach Chaump did it in April, I wasn't really that aware of it. The rest of the team formed a semicircle behind me, and when I made the kick, everybody cheered.

"In a way, I believe it's brought us closer together. I proved to my teammates I can make that kick consistently. Obviously, I can't put the [missed] kick out of my mind. Every day around campus someone is shouting 'Beat Army!' to remind me."

Bucchianeri never expected one missed kick would become such a big story. In the aftermath he was flooded with sympathetic letters from people across the country. And the Pennsylvania native became the focus of a lengthy Sports Illustrated profile complete with dramatic pen-and-ink sketches.

And the tableau of Bucchianeri being consoled by his Army counterpart as they walked off the field last year likely will be revived over the next 10 days leading up to the 95th meeting between the service academies Dec. 3 at Veterans Stadium.

Participants from both sides rekindled memories of the excruciating final seconds of the 1993 contest at a news conference yesterday.

"I was on the sidelines ready to blame myself, feeling almost as bad as Bucchianeri when the game ended," said Army senior quarterback Rick Roper, who, after directing the last two wins over Navy, will sit out this encounter with a knee injury he suffered in the season opener.

"I was thinking that if I hadn't missed with a couple easy passes, Navy would have never been in position to win. Before Bucchianeri lined up for the kick, I told [linebacker] Jack Benecke, 'No way he'll miss it!' When he did, I was as shocked as anyone."

For Army coach Bob Sutton, watching Navy drive down the field in the closing minutes was like "living a nightmare."

"We played so well for so long, I hated the thought of losing the game in the last seconds," he said. "On our last timeout, I told my players, 'Just don't let them score a touchdown. We'll take our chances with a field goal.' We'd missed an extra point earlier in the game. Anything was possible."

Actually, the Mids were not thinking of a field goal as they raced the clock. Chaump knew it would be a tremendous burden to put on a relatively untested plebe who had converted only two of three field-goal attempts before the Army game.

"We were strictly thinking touchdown," said senior quarterback Jim Kubiak. "On third down, we were on their 2-yard line. I handed off to [fullback] Brad Stramanak and our line opened up a hole that looked as big as the Red Sea.

"But their inside linebacker tripped him up on the 1 and we had to go for the kick. We let a victory slip right out of our hands."

The linebacker was Pat Work, now Army's senior co-captain, who led the Cadets this season with 114 tackles.

It was another bitter ending for the Midshipmen, who, a year earlier, had watched Army's Patmon Malcolm kick a career-long 49-yard field goal in the final 12 seconds for a 25-24 victory.

"I came close to blocking that kick in 1992," said senior cornerback and Navy co-captain Chris Hart. "That's why last year's finish was so hard to take. It was like a whole season's work was wiped away in a few seconds.

"But the team didn't lose confidence in Ryan. We hope he has the same opportunity again. He still has two more years of football.

"But this is my last crack at Army. That's why this time I'm going to leave everything on the field: body and soul."

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