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Navy Gives Air Force The Boot

Late Field Goal Moves Mids to 5-0: Navy 24, Air Force 21

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 1, 2004; Page D01

COLORADO SPRINGS, Sept. 30 -- Navy's Geoff Blumenfeld had kicked so poorly this season that Midshipmen Coach Paul Johnson said his team had the "worst kicking game in America." In Navy's first four games, Blumenfeld missed all four of his field goal attempts and one extra point. Blumenfeld was so erratic that Johnson was more likely to leave his offense on the field on fourth and long rather than give his kicker a chance to make a short field goal.

Thursday night, Blumenfeld finally made his first field goal of the season, and it will go down as one of the most memorable kicks in Navy football history. The senior from Granite Bay, Calif., kicked a 30-yard field goal with four seconds left, lifting the Midshipmen to a 24-21 victory over Air Force in front of a stunned crowd of 44,279 at Falcon Stadium.

Geoff Blumenfeld nails a 30-yard field goal with four seconds left to lift Navy to a 24-21 victory over Air Force on Thursday. (Jack Dempsey - AP)

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"How much fun is it to kick a field goal to win a game in Colorado, to put our team at 5-0 going into Notre Dame?" Blumenfeld said. "You couldn't write a better story."

Most college football observers figured it would be difficult for Johnson and Navy to match last year's improbable story -- from 2-10 in 2002 to 8-5, winners of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and Houston Bowl participants. But after waiting 22 years to bring the trophy back to Annapolis, the Midshipmen took the first step Thursday night in keeping it another year. If Navy beats Army in Philadelphia on Dec. 4 (or if the Falcons lose to the Cadets on Nov. 6), the Midshipmen will retain the trophy.

"We know the trophy isn't coming back here," Johnson said, referring to the Air Force Academy, which had won the trophy six consecutive seasons before losing it to Navy last year.

It was only Navy's second victory in Colorado Springs since 1979, and only the second time Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry has lost a home game to another service academy in his 21 seasons at the school. By winning its first five games, Navy is off to its best start since going 6-0 in 1979. The Midshipmen next play Oct. 16 against Notre Dame at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The Fighting Irish have a 40-game winning streak against Navy, the longest current streak in college football.

"Right now, we're as good as we can be," Johnson said. "We've found ways to win every week. This is a resilient bunch. I told them in the locker room they don't have any doubts they can win."

After Air Force pulled even at 21 with 2 minutes 21 seconds left, Navy senior quarterback Aaron Polanco broke loose for a 32-yard run to the Falcons 29-yard line with about 90 seconds remaining. Navy fullback Kyle Eckel ran twice, then Polanco ran the ball two more times to move it to the middle of the field. Blumenfeld lined up to attempt the field goal, but DeBerry attempted to ice him by calling consecutive timeouts. Finally, Navy's snap was clean and Blumenfeld drilled the kick through the uprights in the south end zone.

"We just had a feeling Geoff was going to make the kick," Johnson said. "I told him on the sideline, 'You're going to win the game for us.' I left him alone. He wanted to be alone and he was by himself. I just told all our kids on the sideline, 'Don't run on the field when he makes the kick.' "

Air Force (2-3) fielded the final kickoff and attempted a trick play, but the Falcons couldn't get past their 40-yard line.

After neither team could muster much offense in the second half, they combined to score three touchdowns in the final eight minutes. Navy went ahead 21-14 on Eckel's three-yard run with 4:15 left. But Air Force freshman quarterback Shaun Carney, who was benched for two possessions in the second half because of his ineffectiveness, led his team right back down the field. He completed his final five passes of the drive, including a 12-yard touchdown to J.P. Waller that made it 21-21 with 2:21 remaining.

Navy led 14-6 midway through the fourth quarter despite Air Force dominating time of possession, running almost twice as many offensive plays and nearly doubling the Midshipmen's total yards. But on first down and 10 from the Air Force 23-yard line, Carney threw a 38-yard pass to Waller. Two plays later, Carney lofted a 19-yard touchdown pass to wing back Darnell Stephens. Carney ran in the end zone for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 14 with 7:50 left.

Navy faced third down and 19 on its next possession, but Polanco threw a 66-yard pass to junior Marco Nelson to move to the Air Force 20. Eckel scored his touchdown five plays later. Polanco, voted by selected media members as the recipient of the Ben Martin Award as the game's most valuable player, completed five of 10 passes for 105 yards and ran 13 times for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Eckel ran 21 times for 97 yards and one score.

Carney, who earlier this season became the first Air Force freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener, completed 17 of 21 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Falcons gained 415 yards on 81 plays compared to Navy's 321 yards and 56 plays. Air Force also had nearly a nine-minute advantage in time of possession.

Navy's players celebrated with a couple of hundred midshipmen, who filed into the stands of Falcon Stadium on Thursday wearing their dark blue dress uniforms and traditional white hats. On the other side of the field, the Air Force cadets ditched their usual light blue shirts and dark slacks for camouflage fatigues and caps. The attire of each academy's student body could have matched the moods of their football coaches.

Johnson tried to curtail his players' enthusiasm and dutifully played the role of underdog despite his team's undefeated record. But DeBerry pulled out all stops, desperately wanting to avenge last year's loss to Navy and reestablish his reign as king of service academy football.


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