Navy takes inside route to beat Air Force

Mids win record 4th in row vs. Falcons

Navy goes to 5-1

Navy 24 Air Force 17

October 08, 2006|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Kevin Kreck [The Gazette]COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- This time, it didn't come down to a last-second field goal. This time, Navy took control of its contest against Air Force in the second half, leaving its service academy rival scrambling to stage a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback.

And the Falcons had a chance to pull it off, after cutting a 17-point deficit to seven, then recovering an onside kick. But, when Navy sophomore cornerback Rashawn King cut in front of wide receiver Victor Thompson and batted down a fourth-and-six pass by Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney at the Navy 40 with 2:03 left, the Midshipmen had victimized the Falcons again.

Navy's 24-17 victory before 45,246 at Falcon Stadium - its school-record fourth straight win over Air Force - was not picturesque. But the Mids (5-1), who had won the previous two against the Falcons on dramatic field goals, looked good enough to win their eighth straight game against a service academy and move close to winning their school-record fourth consecutive Commander in Chief's Trophy.

On a day when the Mids' passing game never registered, junior fullback Adam Ballard and senior quarterback Brian Hampton combined for 239 of Navy's 317 rushing yards, as the Mids battered Air Force inside. Ballard, who battled the high altitude and a shoulder injury throughout the game, rushed for a game-high and season-high 134 yards on 27 carries.

The Mids' offense stumbled out of the gate with two early turnovers. But the Navy defense, sparked by senior linebacker David Mahoney's nine tackles and three sacks, shook it off by forcing a huge mistake. Senior cornerback Keenan Little returned a fumble 37 yards for a score late in the first quarter to give Navy a 7-0 lead.

In the end, Navy's grinding, ball-control attack ate up too much of the clock while staking the Mids to a 24-7 advantage early in the fourth quarter.

And after the end, in response to perceived slights by the Falcons in recent years, on and off the field, the Mids blew off some additional steam in Air Force's direction.

"You get tired of hearing it every year. Every day we pick up the [Colorado] papers, [Air Force] is saying it's embarrassing to lose to us, or we're the luckiest team in America. It gets old after a while," Navy coach Paul Johnson said.

"I'm proud to be the coach of the luckiest team in America. We've won four in a row [against Air Force]. They can call it anything they want. That's four years in a row any way you want to spin it."

Said Ballard: "It's nice to come out and validate what we do in practice all week and all the work we put in during the summer. Give me luck, I'll take it. I'm going to Vegas. People talk all week. We've just got to keep on showing up and playing hard."

To the Falcons' credit, they refused to fold, even after Navy ran 26 third-quarter plays to five for Air Force, even after Hampton completed a 15-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard run that turned a 14-7 halftime lead into a 24-7 bulge with 14:40 left in the game.

After Air Force (2-2) answered with a 30-yard field goal by senior kicker Zach Sasser with 9:48 left, the Falcons got the ball back with 5:53 left and made things interesting by driving 80 yards. Carney's 5-yard pass to tight end Travis Dekker cut the Navy lead to 24-17 with 3:06 to go.

Then, after Navy receiver Jason Tomlinson failed to secure an onside kick, linebacker Austin Randle recovered it for Air Force at the Falcons' 49-yard line. But Air Force moved the ball just 4 yards in three plays, and on fourth down, King batted down Carney's pass.

"You have to give Navy a lot of credit. They gave us a good lesson today on how to control the football and how to run the triple option," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who is now 1-4 against Johnson.

The Falcons also might have lost the game early. Navy's second and third possessions ended in an interception by Hampton (1-for-5, 8 passing yards) and the third lost fumble of the year by senior fullback Matt Hall. But Air Force did nothing with those gifts.

Three plays after the Falcons recovered Hall's fumble at the Falcons' 15, Carney got hit by senior linebacker Rob Caldwell and lost the ball. Little picked it up and ran 37 yards untouched for the game's first score.

"It popped out as I was running to the ball. I was like, oh, thank God," Little said.

The Mids then answered an 8-yard, game-tying touchdown run by Air Force running back Chad Hall with a 14-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Hampton's 1-yard run with 4:23 left in the second quarter. That gave Navy a 14-7 halftime lead.

And it set the table for vintage Navy offense. Over two drives comprising 28 plays on their first two second-half possessions, the Mids pounded out 10 points and 137 yards. Navy held the ball for 13:23 in the third quarter.

"That was just what the doctor ordered," Johnson said.

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