Air Force slaps 48-7 beating on Navy

Mids come out strong, but turnovers compound quick decline vs. Falcons

October 06, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Though you would never know it by looking at the final score, for 12 inspiring minutes yesterday, Navy's football team had No. 25 Air Force on the ropes.

The Midshipmen marched down the field and Kyle Eckel scored a touchdown on their first drive. Then surprisingly, for the first time in weeks, Navy's defense followed up by forcing a punt. Suddenly, everything was clicking. Navy was moving the ball, driving for a second touchdown, and the crowd of 48,550 at Falcon Stadium was silent.

Two fumbles later, Navy had lost all its momentum and, in essence, the game. Air Force scored 48 unanswered points and, in the end, won easily, 48-7. It was the fourth straight loss for Navy, and 19th time in the past 21 games Air Force has defeated the Mids.

"When we start to self-destruct, we're really good at it," said Navy coach Paul Johnson. "When things go south for us, we make sure they pile on real quick. It's awful frustrating."

After a shaky opening quarter, Air Force did its part to leave Navy in the dust. The Falcons rushed for 429 yards, including a career-high 161 yards and four touchdowns from quarterback Chance Harridge.

"We wanted to get the upper hand to get the Commander in Chief's Trophy, and I think we did that in dominating fashion," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry.

Though the final outcome may have been inevitable, Navy running backs Tony Lane and Eric Roberts helped speed things along with two early fumbles that led to 10 Falcons points.

"We just keep killing ourselves with turnovers," said Navy quarterback Craig Candeto. "We had everything going for us, but we just don't know how to go for the jugular. We don't know what to do when we're ahead. Good teams put people away when they have the chance, and we just didn't do that."

Lane's fumble, which occurred after he made a nice third-down catch near midfield, only cost Navy three points because the Mids held Air Force to a 34-yard field goal by Joey Ashcroft.

But minutes later, Roberts dropped a pitch from Candeto in the open field, and Falcons defensive back Wes Crawley scooped up the ball and ran it back for a 52-yard touchdown.

"All of a sudden, you're down 10-7 in a game you're totally dominating," Johnson said.

"We just told ourselves on the sidelines that we didn't want to stoop down to their level," Crawley said. "We needed to make something happen."

Navy was reeling, but the Mids staged a mini-rally and drove the ball to the Air Force 8-yard line. After getting stopped on third down, Navy gambled, trying a fake field goal it had been working on all week in practice in which Candeto, the holder, runs the option with kicker Geoff Blumenfeld.

Hurried by the rush, Candeto made a poor pitch to Blumenfeld, and Navy turned the ball over on downs.

"It was there. We just didn't read it right," Johnson said. On the Falcons' next possession, Harridge broke free on a cutback for a 61-yard run, and five plays later Air Force completed a 92-yard drive when Harridge scored from seven yards to make it 17-7.

Harridge would add a touchdown right before halftime to make it 24-7, and Navy never really challenged again. Air Force didn't punt once in the second half.

"We said we would not overlook this team again," Harridge said, referring to the Falcons' slim, 24-18 win last year over the Mids. "We weren't going to let them hang around and have a chance to win it at the end."

As has been the case all season, Navy had several chances to stay in the game, but just couldn't come up with a big play at the right time despite rushing for 260 yards.

Just before halftime, wide receiver Amir Jenkins got open behind the entire Air Force secondary on a play in which he lined up as an offensive tackle, but Candeto didn't see him, and instead threw an incomplete pass to Lane near the sideline.

"We ran that play twice, and each time, we threw to the guy that wasn't wide-open," Johnson said.

Navy's defense didn't have much luck for the fourth week in a row, either. For the day, the Mids surrendered 536 total yards and 27 first downs. In its last four games, Navy's opponents have scored 205 points and gained 2,042 yards.

After forcing five turnovers in its season-opening win over SMU, Navy has forced only one turnover since.

"It's the same old, same old with us," Johnson said. "We turn the ball over, we get farther and farther behind and, before you know it, the game is gone. I sure hope we didn't quit out there, but I'll have to look at the tape and see. I don't know."

NOTES: Candeto led Navy with 99 yards rushing on 17 carries. Eckel added 85 yards on 19 carries. ... Freshman Lamar Owens, considered Navy's quarterback of the future, saw his first action yesterday. Owens returned three kickoffs for 54 yards and rushed the ball three times for 12 yards late in the game. ... Air Force kicker Ashcroft is the nephew of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. He was 2 of 2 on field goals yesterday.

Summary

Navy 7 0 0 0 - 7

Air Force 3 21 10 14 - 48

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