Johnson salutes Navy's effort

New coach hands out praise after Blue tops Gold in spring finale

College Football

April 21, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The Navy football team closed out its fresh-start spring under first-year coach Paul Johnson working hard to the very end.

It wasn't until junior safety Eli Sanders broke up Billy Meraz's pass to Mark Tedrow in the end zone that the Blue squad secured a 31-27 win over the Gold in yesterday's annual spring scrimmage at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

It was a tale of two halves, as the Blue side, composed of first- and third-stringers, took a 28-0 lead before the Gold rallied in the second half to fall just short. Johnson saw plenty of positives, plus some mistakes, and was particularly pleased with the effort lasting to the end.

"Certainly we've got a long way to go but I think we've made some progress. If you came and watched us practice it's like night and day from when we started," Johnson said. "We're learning to go at the right tempo and we're learning to fight through some things. Now, are we there? No. We still got a ways to go, but we're getting there."

First-string quarterback Craig Candeto looked impressive on the ground in Johnson's option offense, running 67 yards for a score to give the Blue a 21-0 lead 4:10 into the second quarter. Second-string quarterback Aaron Polanco was not to be outdone, running for 109 yards and completing nine of 18 passes for 142 yards and a score to help bring the Gold team back in the second half.

Polanco said Johnson and the new coaching staff have brought a different feel. The Midshipmen went 0-10 last season under Charlie Weatherbie.

"It's been great - everybody's like on the same level," Polanco said. "He made sure to evaluate every single player at every position, and that's a lot better than having your favorites. I think that's one good thing about having a new coach ... you get a shot. All the coaches he brought in are intense, as well, and we needed that."

It didn't take long for freshman linebacker Lane Jackson to put an exclamation on his breakthrough spring. As a freshman in the fall, he was seventh on the depth chart playing JV ball. Yesterday, he was starting on the Blue side on the first string.

Just moments after being honored with the Vice Admiral William P. Mack Award, handed out before the game to the most improved player during spring drills, Jackson recovered a fumble and went 23 yards for an early first-quarter score that gave the Blue a 14-0 lead.

"I feel good about today - I finally got to tell everybody what I'm about," Jackson said. "I started off on the very bottom of the depth chart. I realized I wasn't going to get many reps, so when I had them I had to make the most of them. The coaches have noticed."

Senior fullback Cee Harris carried 11 times for 111 yards for the Gold, starting its second-half comeback with a 70-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half to cut the Blue lead to 28-7.

The Blue offense totaled 423 yards on 70 plays (313 yards rushing), while the Gold racked up 444 yards of total offense.

NOTES: Nine players on the three-deep depth chart were out of the lineup due to injuries. Included were five starters from last year's team: linebacker Eddie Carthan, safety Lenter Thomas, tackle David Walsh and wide receivers Dominic Bailey and Chandler Sims. All nine are expected back for the start of practice in August. ... Former Navy and Dallas Cowboys great Roger Staubach attended yesterday's game, watching most of it on the Blue sideline.

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