Navy finds its feet, bounces Duke, 27-12

Mids control 2nd half

Polanco, Eckel lead way

September 05, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Navy's 2004 football team stumbled out of the starting blocks last night, turning the ball over three times in the first half and salvaging a halftime tie with Duke only because its defense refused to break down.

But once the Midshipmen got rolling behind quarterback Aaron Polanco, there was no stopping a second-half revival, and they scored their first victory over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent since 1996 by beating the Blue Devils, 27-12, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

"We did everything we could to lose the game in the first half," said Navy coach Paul Johnson. "I was ecstatic to be tied after turning it over three times, actually four [when a fake punt failed and Duke gained the ball on downs]. I was worried because both teams were driving the ball and there weren't a lot of possessions.

"If you had told me it would be three turnovers to none, I wouldn't have thought we could have won."

The Midshipmen were resolute defensively, keeping the team in the game until Polanco and Kyle Eckel started thriving behind an offensive line that consistently punctured Duke's resistance during the final two quarters.

Polanco, who replaced Craig Candeto as the starter, gained 130 net yards. He scored a touchdown on the ground and completed eight of nine passes for 129 yards and a touchdown - a 58-yard bomb to Jason Tomlinson with 57 seconds left in the second quarter that seemed to reinvigorate Navy's attack.

"We played so horrible the first half," Polanco said. "I wouldn't say it was nerves, just a little trouble holding onto the ball. We got past that and went on."

On their second possession of the second half, the Midshipmen capitalized on Tomlinson's 31-yard punt return and subsequent big third-down catch to drive 37 yards for the go-ahead score. Geoff Blumenfeld converted for a 13-6 lead, a point that would prove crucial a few moments later.

The Blue Devils answered with an 80-yard march capped by Chris Dapolito's 5-yard dash up the middle into the end zone. But Matt Brooks' conversion attempt went wide and left Navy ahead by one.

"I thought that miss was a huge momentum swing," Johnson said.

Apparently his players agreed. Navy responded to the Duke score with a 71-yard procession climaxed by a 3-yard burst by Eckel off tackle to take control at 20-12 with 12 seconds to go in the third period.

The defense continued to hold the Blue Devils at bay and, after Blumenfeld missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt, Navy stashed away the win with a 59-yard touchdown march on which Polanco or Eckel (100 yards on 23 rushes) carried every play. Eckel again drove in from the 3.

Eckel was extremely self-critical after losing fumbles at the Duke 15 and on the goal line in the first half. The second bobble came after the ball was kicked out of his grasp.

"We should have come in at half ahead 20-6. The only thing stopping us was me," Eckel said. "I owed the guys in the second half. There's no excuse for fumbling on the goal line. And the offensive line scored those TDs later, not me. They bailed me out time and time again."

Duke was striving to restore the momentum of its strong finish a year ago under Ted Roof. Its biggest offensive weapon yesterday was running back Cedric Dargan, who was slowed by some slight injuries in the second half.

"We weren't precise with our assignments in the second half," said Blue Devils linebacker Giuseppe Aguanno. "If you're going to try to figure out if Polanco has the ball or if Eckel has it, you're going to get beat."

Polanco said the team dedicated the game to former Navy offensive lineman Ron Winchester, "who passed away two days ago in Iraq. We found it out just before the game."

Johnson was pleased to overcome a team from a "BCS [Bowl Championship Series] conference. Two years ago, Duke beat us, 43-17, so this shows we're making progress."

It just took a little while to find it.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Northeastern (1-0) vs. Navy (1-0)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Yesterday: Northeastern defeated Cheyney, 71-0

Duke 3 3 6 0 -- 12

Navy 0 6 14 7 -- 27

First quarter D -- FG M. Brooks 29, 9:54 Second quarter D -- FG M. Brooks 35, 6:17 N -- Tomlinson 58 pass from Polanco (kick failed), 0:57 Third quarter N -- Polanco 28 run (Blumenfeld kick), 9:44 D -- Dapolito 5 run (kick failed), 4:34 N -- Eckel 3 run (Blumenfeld kick), 0:12 Fourth quarter N -- Eckel 3 run (Blumenfeld kick), 3:06. A--29,027.

Duke Navy

First downs 14 23

Rushes-yards 39-175 57-301

Passing 90 129

Comp-Att-Int 13-22-0 8-9-0

Return Yards 43 117

Punts-Avg. 5-37.4 1-46

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 4-3

Penalties-Yards 7-50 3-20

Time of Possession 29:17 30:43

Rushing--Duke, Dargan 20-114, Dapolito 9-47, Boyle 3-16, Schneider 7 (-2). Navy, Polanco 20-130, Eckel 23-100. Divis 4-57, Roberts 3-13, Hall 1-2, Hines 1-1, Blumenfeld 1-0. Passing--Duke, Schnedier 8-13-0 59, Dapolito 7-5-0 31. Navy, Polanco 8-9-0 129. Receiving--Duke, McCormick 3-26, Elliott 3-14, Patrick 2-16, Landrum 2-13, Roland 1-9, Dukes 1-7, Dargan 1-5. Navy, Tomlinson 3-91, Wesley 2-16, Dryden 1-12, Yokitis 1-8, Roberts 1-2.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.