Another half-empty effort fails to tip scales for Navy

This time, offense lags in 17-10 defeat to Rice

College Football

October 13, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

All season, it seems, football teams have beaten Navy by landing the haymaker. Whether the knockout punch comes in the form of a fumble recovery, an interception or long touchdown run, the Mids' willingness to give up the demoralizing big play has usually been their downfall.

But yesterday was different. The Rice Owls tried, but never quite found a way to floor the Mids. Instead, they hit Navy with one jab after another, and in the end, the result was just as effective.

Rice didn't have a play go for more than 16 yards, but the Owls did put together two methodical touchdown drives, and that was just enough for a 17-10 victory at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Navy's much-maligned defense played perhaps its best game of the year, limiting Rice to 284 yards of offense. But the Owls (2-4) converted four times on fourth down, got 68 rushing yards from their backup quarterback, and sent the Mids (1-5) to their fifth straight defeat - and their 25th loss in the past 27 games.

"It's frustrating to be on the field all the time," said Navy safety Josh Smith, who had a career-high 18 tackles. "We had our chances to get off the field, but we couldn't stop them" on fourth down.

After giving up 205 points in the previous four games, defensive coordinator Buddy Green ditched the Mids' traditional 4-3 defense. Instead, Navy lined up with just three defensive linemen, and went with five defensive backs to try to bottle up Rice's option.

Rice came into the game hoping to run by Navy with its superior speed, but a muddy field courtesy of two straight days of rain quickly forced the Owls to change their plans.

"We tried to get to the corners with our speed, but we just couldn't because of the field," said Rice coach Ken Hatfield. "It was just terrible."

Instead, the Owls turned to fullbacks Ed Bailey (18 carries, 65 yards, two touchdowns) and Robbie Beck (12 carries, 37 yards), who were more than willing to smash the ball straight ahead into the teeth of Navy's defense. On the first drive of the game, Rice chewed 7:45 off the clock with a 17-play, 77-yard drive that included a conversion on fourth-and-10. Bailey scored on a 4-yard run, but it was clear yards would not be easy to come by.

"We had to adjust," Hatfield said. "Navy hadn't run that defense all year."

Impressively, the Mids answered right back, moving the ball 68 yards on seven plays and tying the score one a 7-yard touchdown pass from Craig Candeto to Eric Roberts.

But similar to last week's game against Air Force, Navy had a chance to grab the momentum and let it slip away. One play after Roberts' touchdown, Mids safety Michawn Yuvienco nailed running back Vincent Hawkins, forcing a fumble that linebacker Ben Mathews recovered at Rice's 27-yard line.

Candeto carried the ball inside Rice's 5 on the next play, but Navy was flagged for holding. Rice eventually forced the Mids to punt.

"The holding call was big," said Candeto, who was bothered by a deep thigh bruise most of the second half and rushed for only 58 yards. "It hurt us. But that's just playing `what if' again."

"Seems like the same book, different chapter for us," said Navy coach Paul Johnson. "We get one side of the ball settled, and then the [offense] wasn't working."

In the second quarter, Navy linebacker Dustin Elliott forced a fumble and knocked quarterback Kyle Herm out of the game with a nasty hit.

Elliott, however, may have done Rice a favor. Backup quarterback Greg Henderson came on for Herm and sparked the Owls in the third quarter. Henderson also led a 19-play, 82-yard drive that took 8:01 off the clock and gave Rice the lead for good on a 3-yard touchdown run by Bailey. On the drive, Rice converted twice on fourth-and-one.

"We needed to step it up on some of those fourth downs and make a play," Elliott said. "We didn't get it done."

A fourth-down fumble by Candeto with 2:33 left led to a 25-yard field goal by Rice's Brennan Landry, but the Mids did have one last gasp in them. Aaron Polanco came on for Candeto and drove Navy to the Rice 21, where Eric Rolfs kicked a 39-yard field goal to make it 17-10.

The Mids recovered the ensuing onside kick with 18 seconds left, but Polanco got drilled by defensive end Rob Daniel while setting up for a Hail Mary pass, and Rice recovered the fumble.

"I told our guys after the game I was proud of them," Johnson said. "We had a lot of positives today, and we can build on them."

Next for Navy

Opponent:Boston College

Site:Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

When:Saturday, noon

Record:3-2

Last game:Lost to No. 4 Virginia Tech, 28-23, on Thursday

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