Navy's back on course

Mids, likely to keep CIC Trophy, have bowl eligibility in sights

October 10, 2005|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

The Commander in Chief's Trophy is likely to remain in Bancroft Hall at the Naval Academy after Saturday's pulsating, last-second victory over Air Force.

But the outcome may have enhanced the chances for a travel itinerary for the football players - to a third straight bowl game.

A loss to the Falcons would have left the Midshipmen with a 1-3 record and an uphill challenge in the quest for another of their major goals, postseason play. Six wins over Division I-A opponents are required to qualify for a bowl, and Navy would have needed to capture five of its final seven while facing at least three potentially tough road games at Notre Dame, Rutgers and Rice.

Instead, sophomore Joey Bullen's 46-yard field goal with less than a second on the clock has left the team in a much more favorable position to determine its destiny after the regular season.

The overwhelming emphasis for the week was on the trophy named in honor of the nation's president and presented to the winner of competition among the three major service academies. Unless Army can beat both the Midshipmen and the Falcons, the trophy would remain in Annapolis for the third consecutive year after near-permanent residence in Colorado for two decades.

"Those guys basically called us out," Navy quarterback Lamar Owens said of Air Force. "They tried to come to our house and take a trophy they said is theirs, but it wasn't happening today."

That confidence appeared as if it were going to go unfulfilled for three quarters of the game. But the Navy defense, led by linebackers Rob Caldwell (career-high 21 tackles) and David Mahoney and rover Keenan Little, flexed its muscle in the final 16 minutes, giving the Navy offense the opportunities it needed.

Air Force practically abandoned its passing game after halftime and finished the second half with only 92 yards, including 11 through the air, and four first downs. The Falcons had only one first down after seizing a 24-14 lead midway through the third quarter.

"It was about like they thought they had the game won," said Navy coach Paul Johnson.

Air Force has passed more often and more efficiently this season than usual, but became timid about throwing in the downpour that saturated the field Saturday. "The weather was an excuse not to pass," said quarterback Shaun Carney. "But Navy didn't have any trouble doing it."

Four fourth-quarter punts by the Falcons kept giving Navy more chances, and eventually they got burned by a wildly improbable comeback capped when Bullen rushed onto the field with Navy out of timeouts and split the uprights to ignite a scene of jubilation.

"I am just dumbfounded right now," Bullen said. "With the wet conditions, a lot of things could have gone wrong. This is an unbelievable feeling."

In certain situations, Johnson is just as apt to go for fourth-down yardage as to signal for a field goal. He believes strongly in the power of his triple-option offense and has frequently said Bullen needs to be more consistent.

"It's not that I don't have faith in Joey; there are just times we need to go for the yardage," Johnson said. "It all depends on how the game's going. One thing about Joey. He seems to do better under pressure."

Air Force, which has played three straight times on the road and lost four consecutive games, was shattered. It cannot win the CIC Trophy, has faltered in the Mountain West Conference and probably is headed for a second straight losing season.

Somehow, in a dizzying 4 1/2 -minute stretch of never-quit football, the Midshipmen salvaged a chance to achieve all their goals.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Kent State@Navy Saturday, 1:30 p.m., 1090 AM

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