Peter Schmuck: Taunting penalty wasn't the only mistake that sunk Navy

Midshipmen also could have avoided falling into early hole

October 01, 2011|Peter Schmuck

The pain and disgust was written all over Ken Niumatalolo's face after his team's heart-stopping comeback turned into a heart-breaking 35-34 loss to Air Force on Saturday that assured the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy will not be coming back to Annapolis this year.

Navy was its own worst enemy in the first half and would end up making one fatal mistake in overtime that helped the Falcons escape Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with their second straight victory over the Midshipmen.

That mistake — and not everyone was willing to call it that — was a taunting penalty on quarterback Kriss Proctor that led to a blocked extra point and left the door open for Air Force to win the game with a touchdown and a successful PAT attempt.

The Big 12 officials flagged Proctor for jumping up after his go-ahead score and getting "in the face" of an Air Force player. The 15-yard walk off forced kicker Jon Teague to try a 35-yard extra-point attempt, which came out low and was batted away.

"I hope they [the officials] can sleep well tonight," Niumatalolo said.

No doubt, that sentiment was shared by just about every blue-and-gold-wearing member of the crowd of 37,506 after the Mids battled back from an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter and seemed to have the Falcons on the run when Proctor dove into the end zone on Navy's first OT possession.

The Mids were highly critical of back judge David Vaughan for not considering the emotion of the moment and the impact of the call on the outcome of a game that was extremely important to both service academies.

Niumatalolo and fullback Alexander Teich both were uncharacteristically frank in that appraisal — Teich even pointed out that both teams were extra "psyched" because the game was nationally televised on CBS. He called the timing of the flag "pitiful."

Of course, none of that is supposed to matter to the officials. They aren't supposed to take the importance of the game or the emotion of the moment into consideration when they enforce the rules. Their job is to enforce the rules evenly, though anyone who has watched college or professional football for any length of time knows there is a wide variance in how each crew does that.

There is plenty of discretion exercised in the course of a football game. The officials often pull apart antagonistic players without incurring penalties and routinely ignore trash talk that probably rises to a higher level of unsportsmanlike conduct than what Proctor did.

Or didn't do.

Proctor claimed afterward that he was trying to get back to the Navy sideline and an Air Force player stepped in front of him.

"I told him to move explicitly and he [Vaughan] called it,'' Proctor said.

The word "explicitly" in this case is probably a euphemism for the inclusion of some colorful language during the exchange, which might or might not constitute taunting. Vaughan thought that it did, and that's the only opinion that counts. But it's not hard to make the case that the call robbed the fans and the national TV audience of an even more exciting finish.

If Proctor got too caught up in the moment, the rest of us can forgive him if the back judge could not. Proctor had engineered a fantastic comeback, but one that would not have been necessary if Navy had not stumbled through the first half.

No one tried to make the case that one call cost the Midshipmen the game. They were just upset that it ended that way, and no one can really blame them for that. If the officiating crew was their enemy of choice in the postgame news conference, they will have plenty of time to look in the mirror as they review the film and dissect their second loss of the season.

There were too many other moments in the game that were unquestionably un-Navy-like, and all of them added up to a mountain that the Mids should not have had to climb.

"In the first half we needed to settle down,'' Niumatalolo said. "We were concerned about the emotion of the game. We have to play smart for 60 minutes. Give Air Force credit. They played well at the start. They whipped us early."

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal com.

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