Fay finds himself on both sides of Houston Bowl

Navy QB who sparked comeback in '96 Aloha started at Texas Tech

College Football

December 24, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The unlikely hero of Navy's last bowl game is torn between two worlds for the upcoming one.

When the Houston Bowl kicks off Tuesday, former quarterback Ben Fay will have a rooting interest in both sides - like a parent who has a sibling playing on opposite teams.

Now a pilot assigned to Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fay, a native Texan, signed with Texas Tech out of high school, stayed approximately seven months, then transferred to Annapolis.

"My blood is blue and gold," Fay said via telephone. "But there's still a little Red Raider in my heart. My brother doesn't believe it. He jokes that I went from a Red Raider to a red traitor."

Listed as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the talent-rich state coming out of high school, Fay as a Midshipmen spent the majority of his career playing behind first Jim Kubiak, a record-setting passer, then Chris McCoy, a record-setting runner. But in the 1996 Aloha Bowl, Fay enjoyed his 10 minutes of fame.

"I was pretty much a second-stringer, so I thought the odds of me playing might be slim," he said. "I thought after Army, it was pretty much all over. But like the Red Ryder BB gun the boy gets at Christmas, the chance came out of nowhere."

Navy was trailing an explosive California team, 38-28, entering the fourth quarter, and McCoy had started to sputter.

"Chris had a good game," said Fay. "I was a thrower, and they had used me in a few games just to change the pace. In the fourth quarter, Coach [Charlie Weatherbie] put me in there on our first possession."

Fay entered with 10:38 remaining in the game. He led a 80-yard touchdown drive and scored from the 3-yard line to trim the deficit to three points.

On California's next series, Navy defender David Viger stripped the ball from quarterback Pat Barnes and Jerome Dixon recovered to set up Fay's final thrust.

Fay marched the Midshipmen 84 yards in six plays, scored from the 10 and secured his place in Navy history. He passed for 118 yards in the two drives.

"It was a matter of who was going to score last," said Fay.

And he could have been at Texas Tech, where his sister graduated.

"I was comfortable with the folks out there [Tech], because I grew up in that area," he said. "I enjoyed the people and the school and liked the football program. But Navy really appealed to me. I started having reservations about passing up a good opportunity. I was 18 and I started thinking what I wanted to be doing when I was 28. And transferring was partly because of the challenge involved. I wanted to be able to fly with the military."

Back in Texas, Fay's home is decorated in both blue and gold and red and black, the respective school colors of Navy and Texas Tech. He keeps in touch with the Midshipmen through Jeff Johnson, a former All-East Navy lineman, and the Dallas alumni chapter (where he now lives).

He saluted current coach Paul Johnson as peerless at "calling plays on Saturday. A lot can coach Monday through Friday, but I haven't seen anybody as good as Coach Johnson on game day. He's a mastermind."

Johnson, the offensive coordinator in 1996, had already left the academy to begin work as the head coach at Georgia Southern during preparations for the Aloha Bowl. But he returned to coach the game when Fay became the headliner.

"I don't know which side I want to be on in this game," Fay said. "Everybody thinks both teams are going to score 40 points, but it may turn out to be a defensive struggle. But I'm willing to bet there aren't two coaches in the NCAA who go for it on fourth down more than these two [Johnson and Texas Tech's Mike Leach]."

Fay said he will try to attend the game if he can obtain leave. One thing's for sure: He's enthusiastic about it.

"I'm as fired up as I can be," he said. "I'm sure it's pretty electric back there in Annapolis."

Houston Bowl

Matchup: Navy (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Site: Reliant Stadium, Houston

When: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Texas Tech by 12 1/2

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