Navy's hopes rise briefly, plummet Late turnover seals Air Force's 10-7 win

October 12, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

It appeared to be a perfect day for a happy ending for Navy yesterday as it played unbeaten and 19th-ranked Air Force.

The largest crowd in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium history was on hand, a national television audience was looking on and Navy's defense was shutting down the vaunted Falcons offense.

And when shifty Mids quarterback Chris McCoy took off downfield with time running out, it looked as if Navy just might provide a dramatic ending before the crowd of 36,172.

McCoy darted and danced 18 yards to the Air Force 42-yard line before he was hit by Falcons tackle Bryce Fisher from the right side and fumbled.

McCoy lunged desperately for the ball, but cornerback Tim Curry fell on it with 1 minute, 2 seconds on the clock, sealing a 10-7 victory for the 7-0 Falcons.

The loss not only took Navy (2-3) virtually out of the chase for the coveted Commander in Chief's Trophy and put a major damper on its bowl hopes, but it also prevented the Mids from defeating a Top 25 team for the first time since 1985.

McCoy was nearly in tears after the loss and said he made "a mistake" moments before the fumble.

"I shifted the ball from my left to right hand and he [Fisher] hit it," McCoy said. "That was a mistake. I saw a guy coming at me from the left, but I didn't see the guy [Fisher] on the right. I knew the clock was running and knew I could get a first down and maybe a lot more."

When McCoy was asked if it would take a day for the loss to sink in, he said: "No, I understand it now. It's one of the toughest losses of my career."

McCoy had given Navy a 7-0 lead with 11: 25 left in the first half when he stepped through a hole in the right side of the line and ran into the end zone from 8 yards.

He has 31 rushing touchdowns in his Navy career, tying Napoleon McCallum for first on the all-time academy list. McCoy also rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries yesterday to give him 2,475 in his career, placing him ninth in NCAA history for rushing yards by a quarterback.

McCoy's fumble was magnified because Air Force had gone ahead 10-7 by scoring a touchdown off a blocked punt with 10: 23 left in the third quarter.

Navy senior punter Jason Covarrubis dropped back near the goal line to kick on fourth-and-eight but never got the punt off.

Air Force defensive back Charlie Jackson came storming through the middle of the line to reject the kick right after it left Covarrubis' foot at the 6-yard line. The ball bounced into the end zone and Curry recovered for the touchdown.

It would be the first of two crucial recoveries by Curry.

Covarrubis said: "I was looking down and felt some pressure up the middle and then a guy got his hand on it. The fact we were so deep in our territory helped them have a better chance to pull off the block. It wouldn't have happened in the middle of the field."

It looked as if Covarrubis may have taken a little too much time getting the kick off, but both he and Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie said the timing seemed to be all right.

"They just came up the middle between the guard and center," said Weatherbie, referring to the fact that somebody possibly missed a block. "It wasn't a bad snap and he got it off in time."

Weatherbie consoled several of his downtrodden players in the interview room and said, "I hurt inside for all the guys on this team who will never get another chance to play for the Commander in Chief's Trophy or beat the Air Force Academy again. Also, this game was in our territory, where we have won eight straight. We will never have an opportunity to replay this one."

Weatherbie said Navy "won in two phases of the game, offensively and defensively, but got beat in special teams."

McCoy had 70 yards passing, going 6-for-16 with one interception and three passes dropped.

Navy's Pat McGrew returned the opening kickoff 57 yards to the Air Force 39-yard line.

McCoy first hit a wide-open Manny Metcalf right in the hands at the 34, but Metcalf dropped it. The quarterback came right back with a perfect pass to a wide-open Mark Mill at the Air Force 21, but again it was dropped.

Navy wound up punting the ball and found itself in a defensive duel the rest of the day.

Next for Navy

Opponent: VMI

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Record: 0-6

Yesterday: Lost to Tennessee-Chattanooga, 27-24

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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