Rice's botched extra point allows Navy to escape, 14-13

Owls' defense frustrates Eckel, but Polanco fills gap as Mids enter bowl picture

College Football

October 24, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Notice to bowl committees: Navy has about 85 young men who would love to accept an invitation to your game.

The Midshipmen made themselves eligible to issue that call for postseason action for the second straight year yesterday, barely holding onto a 14-13 victory at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when Rice kicker Brennan Landry missed an extra-point attempt with 4:41 left in the game.

After Landry's miss, Navy (6-1) killed the clock, with quarterback Aaron Polanco carrying seven times on the final possession to complete a career-best, 33-rush, 179-yard performance.

"It means a lot to everybody," Navy linebacker David Mahoney said of the bowl qualification and clinching of a winning season. "It emphasizes how good this team is getting and helps with recruiting when high school players see we can go to two straight bowls. This shows we're on the uprise and have made a turnaround."

The celebration almost had to be put on a back burner. Trailing 14-0, the Owls came alive late in the third quarter after a change of quarterbacks. Freshman Joel Armstrong replaced senior Greg Henderson and Rice looked like a new team.

Armstrong reeled off a 41-yard run to the Navy 30 on his second carry after a controversial pass-interference call against Vaughn Kelley prolonged an Owls drive.

Without the penalty, the Owls would have been forced to punt from their 21 but, with new life, they marched 80 yards in 13 plays to narrow their deficit to 14-7 on a fourth-down Armstrong touchdown from the 3.

"They throw the ball in the bleachers and we get called for pass interference," said Navy coach Paul Johnson, who was not pleased with several infractions called against his team. "We sure didn't get any breaks."

Navy punted after three plays netted six yards and Armstrong answered by directing the Owls (3-4) on a 14-play, 69-yard march to the end zone, finishing it with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ed Bailey on play action. But Landry's try went wide and the Midshipmen breathed a sigh of relief.

"I was pretty shocked and pretty happy, too," said Navy defensive end Jeremy Chase. "I couldn't believe it and, at first I thought we blocked it. I really wasn't looking forward to overtime."

Rice is the No. 1 Division I-A running team in the country, yet Navy ended with a 263-223 advantage in net ground yardage, primarily because Polanco stepped up as the Owls repulsed fullback Kyle Eckel and dominated the line of scrimmage with their size advantage.

"I was just looking at the way the defense was playing and they were taking the pitch and shutting down Eckel," said Polanco, who was withheld from contact during practice after absorbing a physical beating from Notre Dame last weekend.

The result was the most rushing yards by a Navy quarterback since Brian Madden peppered Tulane for 201 three years ago.

"They were killing us inside," said Johnson. "We couldn't run the fullback. Probably 90 percent of the time we ran it was option plays."

Polanco was not sharp with his passing, throwing a season-high 15 and completing only four. The longest was a 37-yard strike to Eric Roberts to the Rice 2, where a jarring hit by Raymorris Barnes forced a fumble. The ball bounced into the end zone, where the Mids' Corey Dryden recovered for his first career touchdown.

An extra point by Geoff Blumenfeld that followed proved the decisive one.

Early in the game, Navy drove to the Rice 13 before failing to convert a second fourth-down play on the drive, and Blumenfeld missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. Rice couldn't get unwound offensively with Henderson in the game.

The Midshipmen capitalized on a poor Owls punt to break a scoreless tie, covering 50 yards in 10 snaps, with Frank Divis taking a pitch the final yard with 44 seconds left before halftime. Polanco lugged the ball seven straight times on the possession and a 17-yard gain by Jason Tomlinson on a reverse set up the score.

It was the fourth consecutive road loss for Rice.

"It was a shame it came down to that [missed extra point] because we deserved a better fate," said Owls coach Ken Hatfield. "This would have been a heck of a finish with both teams trying to win. Navy is a good, solid team, but they have to look back at this game and know they got a break."

The opposing coaches obviously disagree on who got the breaks, but the bottom line is that the Midshipmen are postseason material again.

"People can talk about who we've played, this and that. But we're 6-1, and that's all I care about," Johnson said.

Said Polanco: "It's a great accomplishment, an unbelievable feeling. But the season is far from over. We want to win the rest. This is a good start."

Next for Navy

Matchup: Delaware (6-1) vs. Navy (6-1)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: CN8/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Yesterday: Delaware beat William and Mary, 31-28.

Rice 0 0 0 13 - 13

Navy 0 7 7 0 - 14

Second quarter Navy-Divis 1 run (Blumenfeld kick), :44.

Third quarter Navy-Dryden fumble recovery in end zone (Blumenfeld kick), 4:40.

Fourth quarter Rice-Armstrong 3 run (Landry kick), 12:30. Rice-Bailey 11 pass from Armstrong (kick failed), 4:41. A-31,117.

..........................Rice Navy

First downs 15 19

Rushes-yards 53-223 52-263

Passing 35 79

Comp-Att-Int 5-5-0 4-15-0

Return Yards 36 49

Punts-Avg. 6-32.7 4-38.3

Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-0

Penalties-Yards 3-25 5-42

Time of Possession 29:36 30:24

Rushing-Rice, Armstrong 13-86, Bailey 17-63, Henderson 11-37, Smith 12-37. Navy, Polanco 33-179, Eckel 10-32, Nelson 2-23, Tomlinson 1-17, Hines 2-9, Roberts 2-3, Divis 1-1, team 1-(minus 1). Passing-Rice, Henderson 3-3-0-13, Armstrong 2-2-0-22. Navy, Polanco 4-15-0-79. Receiving-Rice, Bailey 2-22, Battle 2-6, Simonak 1-7. Navy, Roberts 3-64, Nelson 1-15.

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