Navy finishes off Air Force

TD and field goal in last 2:22 let Mids pull rank on Falcons again

Navy 27 Air Force 24

College football


Navy is making a habit out of grounding Air Force with miracle finishes during Paul Johnson's coaching era.

For the third consecutive season, the Midshipmen seized the initiative in the race for the Commander in Chief's Trophy with a three-point victory over their bitter rivals and this one brought the most dramatic ending of all.

With no timeouts remaining, sophomore place-kicker Joey Bullen rushed onto the field and drilled a 46-yard field goal in a steady rain with less than a second remaining to climax a furious rally that gave Navy a 27-24 victory before 35,211 drenched fans at the rededication of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium yesterday.

Navy (2-2) had trailed the entire game before taking the ball at its own 20 with 4:26 on the clock and quickly driving 80 yards to a tying touchdown, primarily on the legwork of 5-foot-6 Reggie Campbell, who covered 69 of them on the final two plays, including a 40-yard touchdown. Bullen booted the extra point to tie the score at 24 with 2:22 left.

"The hardest kick to me was the extra point," said Johnson. "The one at the end [field goal] was a win-win kick. If you make it, you win the game. If you miss we just go to overtime and still have a chance to win. But Joey never seems to get flustered."

Bullen said having to hurry onto to the turf for the game-winner - a situation Navy practices for - may have been beneficial.

"Time was running out, so I didn't have too much time to think about it," said Bullen, who came to the academy to play soccer but didn't make the team and kicked for the sprint football squad last fall. "We definitely had to rush it a whole lot faster than we normally would. That might have helped a little."

With a slight breeze behind him, Bullen's kick split the uprights from a career-long distance and revived memories of Geoff Blumenfeld's 30-yard game-winner last year in Navy's 24-21 triumph in Colorado.

"They didn't put us away and they let us hang around," said Navy quarterback Lamar Owens. "You let a good team do that and they're going to come and get you."

A defensive lapse by two new secondary starters led to a 54-yard touchdown pass from Shaun Carney to Greg Kirkwood and pushed the Falcons into a 17-7 halftime lead.

"That was kind of one of those things that happen, the defensive backs falling asleep," said Owens. "Coach Johnson just told us to take that first drive of the second half down and score. That's what we did."

Air Force still had a 10-point cushion late in the third period before a 20-yard Bullen field goal made it 24-17. From that point forward, the Navy defense was energized, limiting Air Force to one first down the rest of the game to set up the exciting climax.

With the ball at the Navy 31, Owens hit Campbell down the middle for a 29-yard gain. "Our main focus was to try to stay in the game and make plays. It was the same pass I dropped early in the week [in practice]. I told Lamar I'd make up for that."

On the next play, Campbell, the smallest player on the field, took a pitchout to the left, eluded a diving tackler at the Falcons' 30 and raced to the end zone. Bullen followed with the tying point.

The Midshipmen then continued their defensive recovery, forcing Air Force to go three-and-out from its own 20. Falcons punter Donny Heaton shanked the kick, the ball carrying a mere 9 yards, setting up Navy`s final series at the Air Force 35.

Two runs by Matt Hall netted 4 yards and Johnson had Bullen on the field on third down, but Air Force called a timeout. When play resumed, Owens carried for 3 yards, setting up the mad dash of Bullen, holder Brian Hampton and snapper Matt Williams to combine for the decisive points.

"In the second half, it was up to us to give our offense a chance," said Navy defensive back Keenan Little, who had an end-zone interception that prevented Air Force from jumping ahead 17-0. "I think we played our worst half of the season in the first half."

"We came out and got pumped up and got on a roll," added linebacker Rob Caldwell, who mustered a career-high 21 tackles. "We just kept going. This is something you play college football for, a game like this."

Johnson is now 6-1 against service academy teams. Navy can keep the Commander in Chief's Trophy in Annapolis either by beating Army or by having Air Force beat Army.

It was another unpalatable pill for the Falcons, who won the trophy 13 of 14 years before Johnson's Navy program took off.

"It hurts. The goals of our program are gone," said Carney. "I guess it's still possible to go to a bowl game, but we've got to play for ourselves."

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