Plenty of spoils left for Navy

Commander-In-Chief's trophy, bowl game in sight

College Football

November 11, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

On the bright side of another bitter loss to Notre Dame is the fact that Navy still has so much at stake.

Winning in South Bend over the Fighting Irish would have added a magical memory to Navy's football resurrection. But even after losing to them for the 40th consecutive year, even after losing on a last-second, 40-yard field goal that completed Notre Dame's second straight fourth-quarter escape over the Midshipmen, Navy has plenty of reasons to move on with a purpose.

The Mids (6-4) have their home finale remaining against Central Michigan in 11 days, followed by their annual clash with Army on Dec. 6 in Philadelphia. A victory next week would guarantee Navy its first winning season since 1997 and make the Mids bowl eligible for the first time since 1996.

Should it complete the regular season with a two-game winning streak by beating Army, Navy would win its first Commander-In-Chief's Trophy since 1981, by virtue of having the best record in the annual service academy series. The Mids beat Air Force, 28-25, on Oct. 4.

At 7-5, Navy could be attractive to a lower-tier bowl-game committee with an opening. At 8-4, the Mids would figure to be irresistible. Navy possibly could play in the Continental Tire, Houston, Fort Worth or Humanitarian bowls.

Navy might have to get there without senior center Shane Todd, who suffered what may be a season-ending toe injury at Notre Dame, adding to the ailments that have beset the offensive line. Six weeks ago, Todd moved from guard to replace center August Roitsch, who is out for the year with a foot injury.

"This group has been pretty focused all year. You've got to take [the Notre Dame loss] just like we won. You've just got to move on," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "What we can't afford to do is let Notre Dame beat us twice. They were able to beat us twice last year."

A year ago, Navy was winding down a dismal, 2-10 season when it blew an eight-point lead in the final four minutes and lost by a touchdown to Notre Dame. A week later, the Mids were embarrassed by Connecticut at home, 38-0.

"We can't go into the tank," Navy quarterback Craig Candeto said. "This is not the end of our season. We can still do some good things."

The Mids came so close Saturday. Despite being dominated up front for much of the contest and failing to force a turnover for the first time in 17 games, Navy was able to use excellent field position to manufacture 17 points, spring senior slotback Tony Lane for a 65-yard touchdown run, and lead the Irish (3-6) on three occasions.

Still, Navy could not deal with Notre Dame running back Julius Jones, who rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns, and led the drives that produced two field goals over the game's final five minutes, erasing a 24-21 Navy lead.

Only the Irish play-calling slowed Jones, who averaged 6.7 yards on 33 carries, but went through notable stretches without touching the ball. Freshman quarterback Brady Quinn attempted 27 passes.

"They decided they wanted to run the ball to win the game. It was pretty successful," Johnson said. "I'm glad they didn't decide to do that earlier in the game."

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