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Confident Midshipmen Keep On Sailing

Undefeated Navy Attacks Via Air, Ground: Navy 29, Vanderbilt 26

By Christian Swezey
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page E13

The Navy football team turned toward the Brigade of Midshipmen immediately following a 29-26 victory over Vanderbilt before 32,809 yesterday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, prepared to sing the school's alma mater. But there was a little business to take care of first.

As the players assembled, the Brigade began chanting, "4 and 0! 4 and 0!" Navy is undefeated after four games, continuing its best start to a season since 1979.

Vanderbilt's Robert Dinwiddle tangles with the wrong man -- the referee, who ejected Dinwiddle from the game. At 4-0, Navy is off to its best start since it began 6-0 in 1979. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

Navy also has defeated teams from the Southeastern Conference and ACC in the same season for the first time since 1984.

"We laid the foundation last year," said senior safety Josh Smith, who had 15 tackles. "We knew we had to come out and start the season off as we ended last year. We already had confidence in ourselves. We just had to prove it to everybody else."

The Midshipmen proved it to Vanderbilt (0-3) yesterday. The Commodores entered with all of their defensive starters back from last year. Their coaches believed that experience would help stop Navy's triple-option offense because the Commodores had seen it before, in a 37-27 Navy win last year in Nashville.

Navy rushed for 342 yards and held the ball for 17 of the final 20 minutes in that game.

Yesterday, however, the Midshipmen had a wrinkle for the Commodores -- namely, a passing game spurred by senior quarterback Aaron Polanco.

Polanco threw for 176 yards and one touchdown and rushed for a team-high 84 yards and one touchdown. In all, he was responsible for 260 of Navy's 366 yards.

"Aaron made some great plays," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "Some really great individual plays."

Vanderbilt committed most of its defense to stopping the run, and that left single coverage on Navy's slot receivers. And that was where the Midshipmen attacked.

On his first throw to a slot receiver, Polanco overthrew freshman Reggie Campbell, who was open near the end zone midway through the first quarter.

But the play worked when Polanco completed a 45-yard touchdown pass to junior Marco Nelson to tie the game at 7 with 12 minutes left in the first half. The Midshipmen threw to a slot again late in the third quarter, and it resulted in a 34-yard completion to senior Eric Roberts that put the ball on the Vanderbilt 7.

Navy scored two plays later, on a five-yard run by senior Frank Divis for a 22-19 lead with 6:28 left. Navy never trailed again.

"That was something our coaches noticed from the way they played us last year," Polanco said. "They were putting a lot of people inside to stop the run, and we had man coverage on the outside."

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