Footnotes in history Kicking is key: Field goals have decided the last three games of the annual Army-Navy series. The Mids' place-kicker, Jason Covarrubias, would welcome similar pressure on Saturday.

November 29, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Jason Covarrubias is a history major at the Naval Academy, and his memory requires no prodding when it comes to reciting the recent results of the Army-Navy football game, being played for the 96th time Saturday.

Details of how the Midshipmen have lost the past three games by a swing of a leg are as familiar to the sophomore place-kicker as the orders of the day and the chain of command.

The 1993 encounter was decided in Army's favor by Patmon Malcolm's 49-yard field goal with 29 seconds left.

In 1994, a missed 18-yard attempt by freshman Ryan Bucchianeri in the final seconds deprived Navy of a victory.

Last year's game was decided by Kurt Heiss' career-best 52-yard kick for the Cadets.

Bucchianeri, now a junior, has not dressed for several games, and is placed behind Covarrubias and junior Brian Graham on the Navy depth chart.

"I'm obviously aware of what has happened the last three years," said Covarrubias, 5 feet 10, 170 pounds, from Buena Park, Calif.

"There is enough pressure in the atmosphere of an Army-Navy game not to put an added burden on an individual player. But I like to be the guy who steps up to handle the pressure of deciding a game.

"I'm aware that this game not only gives us a chance for the first winning season in 13 years, but also to dispel a lot of frustration against Army. It's for bragging rights the rest of the year, and I just want the opportunity to succeed."

Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie, who will be experiencing his first Army-Navy game, has watched the Midshipmen improve dramatically on offense, defense and special teams over last year's 3-8 team that led to George Chaump's dismissal.

The Mids have improved in everything but place-kicking, which remains a shaky proposition.

Covarrubias, who won a preseason kicking contest over Graham, Bucchianeri and soccer player Ryan Cox, has converted seven of 15 field-goal attempts, but only one from beyond the 40. Most recently, he missed two attempts against Tulane from 28 and 32 yards.

"I'd be very happy if this game doesn't come down to a field goal again," Weatherbie said. "But you expect three or four games a year to go down to the wire, and a kicker has to produce in those situations.

"That's why we've kept the place-kicking job competitive every week. We use the kicker who has performed best in practice, and that's always been Jason."

Army coach Bob Sutton has suffered few anxiety attacks watching his three place-kickers perform over the last four years.

His current kicker, junior J. Parker, has converted nine of 13 attempts and gained a last-minute tie by making a 44-yard field goal against Rice. He also has made all 34 of his extra points.

Said Sutton: "When you employ an option offense and control the clock for five or six minutes marching down the field, you don't want to come away without any points. You need a reliable place-kicker."

Covarrubias has been kicking a ball as long as he can remember, haunting soccer fields near Anaheim as soon as he was old enough to join an organized league.

"I played soccer for 12 years, and I was good at it," he said. "I also enjoyed football, but the secondary schools I attended didn't have football teams."

At Western High in Anaheim, he joined the football team and was an all-county kicker and receiver his senior year.

An outstanding student, Covarrubias received academic scholarship offers to Stanford and three Ivy League schools. But Navy was always at the top of his list.

"The academic challenges, career opportunities, plus a chance to play Division I football made it an easy decision," he said. "I've never regretted the choice."

Covarrubias strives to be considered a complete football player, not just a team specialist, but place-kickers always have been a breed apart.

And he probably will feel like the loneliest man in the world if a swing of his leg again makes the difference Saturday.

"I welcome the chance," he said.

Army-Navy

When: Saturday, noon

Where: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Series record: Army leads 45-43-7

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