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Navy Survives Rice's Rally

Midshipmen Ensure Winning Season, Become Eligible for Bowl: Navy 14, Rice 13

By Christian Swezey
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page E13

Navy became eligible for a bowl game and clinched a winning record following its 14-13 victory over Rice before 31,117 yesterday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The Midshipmen (6-1) remained one of just three Division I-A teams not to have played an overtime game. An extra session appeared likely after Rice scored a touchdown to close to 14-13 with 4 minutes 41 seconds to play.


Navy wide receiver Jason Tomlinson loses his hold on the ball after being hit by Raymorris Barnes. The Midshipmen held on to win after leading 14-0. (Chris Gardner -- AP)

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But junior place kicker Brennan Landry missed the extra point wide right. Landry is the school's career leader in extra-points made.

"I didn't really believe it," Navy junior defensive end Jeremy Chase said. "At first I thought we blocked it, but no one claimed it. When I found out he missed it right, I was pretty shocked. But I was pretty happy, too."

Said Rice Coach Ken Hatfield, "He's got to make extra points."

Rice (3-4) entered with basically the same defensive game plan it has had for Navy for the past four years. The linemen focus on stopping the fullback; the linebackers play the pitch-men on the option; and the quarterback is the preferred ball carrier.

Navy was more than happy to oblige. Senior quarterback Aaron Polanco ran for a career-high 179 yards on 33 carries. No other player had more than 10 carries or 32 yards.

In a 38-6 win over Rice last year, Navy quarterbacks had 44 carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterbacks had 28 of Navy's 41 carries in a 17-10 loss in 2002; and quarterback Brian Madden had 34 of the team's 51 carries in a 21-13 loss in 2001.

"We didn't run the fullback because they were killing us inside," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "They didn't take the quarterback on the [option] pitch. Probably 90 percent of the time he ran the ball was on option plays."

Rice entered leading the nation with 345.7 rushing yards per game; Navy was sixth with 258.8. The teams also finished one-two in rushing last year (Navy was first). Rice's plan is to pass rarely: The Owls have completed more than 10 passes in a game just three times dating from 2000, a span of 52 games.

The game was scoreless until just before halftime. The Midshipmen took the ball at midfield and went on a 10-play drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by senior Frank Divis with 44 seconds left in the half.

Perhaps befitting the problems with the offensive line -- there were two new starters there yesterday -- the key blocks on the touchdown came from two other players, wide receiver Amir Jenkins, who was lined up at tackle, and slotback Eric Roberts.

Meantime, Navy held Rice to 105 rushing yards when redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Armstrong replaced senior Greg Henderson late in the third quarter with Rice trailing 14-0 (Navy had scored its second touchdown when junior Corey Dryden fell on a fumble by Roberts in the end zone).

Navy appeared to hold Rice after Armstrong threw an incomplete pass on third and nine. But an official threw a penalty flag after the play ended and called pass interference on senior cornerback Vaughn Kelley.

That gave Rice a first down at its 29. On the next play, Armstrong gained 41 yards before being tackled by senior Josh Smith at the Navy 30. Eight plays later, Armstrong scored on a three-yard run to cut the deficit to 14-7.

The Owls closed to 14-13 following an 11-yard pass from Armstrong to fullback Ed Bailey before the missed extra point.

Armstrong finished with 86 yards on 13 carries. Smith led Navy's defense with 14 tackles.

Navy's coaches weren't pleased with the officials yesterday. The late pass interference call came a few minutes after an apparent 35-yard completion from Polanco to sophomore Jason Tomlinson, which would have put the ball at the Rice 2-yard line, was ruled incomplete.

Television replays showed that Tomlinson made the catch.

"He caught the ball, I saw it," Johnson said. "Then they throw the ball into the bleachers and get a pass interference call. That our football team came back from all that was pretty good."

Midshipmen Note: Navy senior fullback Kyle Eckel did not start yesterday because he was late to a team meeting Friday. Eckel entered on the second series.


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