Navy slips up in second half before falling to Tulane, 51-30

Mids commit 2 turnovers in final 30 minutes, drop seventh straight game

October 27, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - It's almost unreasonable to ask a football team to play a perfect game. Even the best and most talented teams jump offside, miss blocks and fumble from time to time. But before each game, Navy coach Paul Johnson gathers his team, and asks it to do just that. Play perfect, he says, and the team understands why. It's Navy's only chance to win.

But when the pursuit for perfection comes up short, as it did yesterday against Tulane, the result is usually the same.

Though the Midshipmen played a strong first half against the Green Wave, eventually they were undone by their own errors and miscues. Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman tossed five touchdowns and the Green Wave took advantage of two second-half Navy turnovers to earn a 51-30 win at Tad Gormley Stadium.

It was the seventh consecutive defeat for Navy (1-7), and the sixth time this season that the Mids have given up at least 40 points, tying a school record.

"I think we really played hard, and our guys believed we could win," Johnson said. "We were able to match them score for score in the first half. But for us to win, we have to do everything perfect. That's pretty tough to do."

Things were going well for Navy for most of the first half. Though Losman was finding holes in the Mids' secondary (he threw for 244 yards and three scores in the first half alone), the Mids showed some offense as well. Navy rushed for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, and in the first quarter, the Mids grabbed a 13-10 lead on a touchdown by Craig Candeto. It was the first time Navy had led in a game since going up 10-7 in the first quarter against Air Force on Oct. 5.

Navy would go up 20-17 in the second quarter, thanks to an 18-yard touchdown run by Kyle Eckel, which was set up by an interception by Mids free safety Josh Smith. It was the first interception all year by a Navy defensive back.

"I think that turned things around for us for a while," Smith said. "But then we started to miss assignments again and they kept scoring."

Tulane (6-3) went back up 23-20 on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Losman to Nick Narcisse, and it looked like that might be the score going into halftime, when Navy's offense stalled at midfield with 1:21 left. But faced with a fourth-and-3, Johnson decided to go for it instead of trying to pin Tulane deep with a punt. His decision proved costly when Eric Roberts couldn't pick up the first down on an outside run and six plays later, Losman found tight end Bobby Hoover alone in the end zone to make it 30-20.

"In hindsight, I guess you punt the ball there," Johnson said. "But I've done that, too. We did it against Duke, and they still went down and scored. The way the game was going, I felt like we had to score. We were getting the ball to start the second half, and I was trying to put us up. It was a big momentum change."

In the second half, Tulane's edge in overall athletic ability became more troublesome for Navy. Losman stayed calm in the pocket in the face of countless blitzes, and when he found receivers open, they broke tackles. On Tulane's first possession of the second half, the Green Wave took the ball 70 yards in 12 plays and went up 36-20 on a touchdown pass from Losman to Tristan Smith.

"We got adjusted at halftime," Tulane coach Chris Scelfo said. "Fortunately, our offense kept toe-to-toe with them, and then our defense got settled down and made some huge plays."

Navy's last real chance came in the third quarter when the Mids' defense forced Tulane to punt for the first time from deep in its territory. But after getting the ball at the 41-yard line down 36-23, Eckel couldn't handle a hurried pitch from Candeto, and Tulane defensive end Chris Williams scooped up the ball and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. It was the sixth time this season that Tulane has scored a defensive touchdown, one in each of its six wins.

"When you do things like fumble and have it returned for a touchdown, you're not going to win," Candeto said. "We can't make errors like that. It's the same thing each week. There's nothing left to say."

Said Johnson: "We completely whiffed on the block there. The guy almost took the handoff. They fumbled a few times, and we never seemed to be around the ball. But the one time we put in on the ground, they're right there to run it back. It's tough."

Navy never challenged after that. Backup quarterback Aaron Polanco added a late touchdown to make things more respectable. The Mids finished with 431 yards (355 rushing) to Tulane's 435. Tony Lane led Navy with 80 yards rushing and a touchdown.

NOTES: Freshman linebacker Jeremy Chase made his first career start for Navy and finished tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. ... In two years against Tulane, Navy has given up 101 points. ... The Mids have turned the ball over 25 times, including 20 fumbles. ... Lane threw an interception on a halfback pass in the second half.

Navy 13 7 3 7 - 30

Tulane 17 13 14 7 - 51

Next for Navy

Opponent:No. 6 Notre Dame

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Nov. 9, noon

Record:8-0

Yesterday:Beat Florida State, 34-24

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