Navy football hangs on to beat Central Michigan

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 8:39 PM

NavyC. Michigan

Another home game, another cardiac finish for the Navy football team. This time, the Midshipmen needed every last one of their points to outlast Central Michigan, 38-37, on Saturday in a game whose outcome was in doubt until the final seconds.

That's when the Chippewas went for a two-point conversion to win, and as soon as quarterback Ryan Radcliff's pass sailed high and out of the end zone, Navy finally was able to exhale against a team that came in having lost six of seven.

All that was left to do with four seconds to play was handle the kickoff and watch junior quarterback Kriss Proctor kneel to run off clock. Once it hit zero, Proctor was caught in the middle of a raucous celebration that had a lot do with his career-high 201 rushing yards in place of regular starter Ricky Dobbs, who missed the game after absorbing a minor blow to the helmet in last week's win against East Carolina.

"That was a heck of a ballgame," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Both teams battled obviously to the end. In a game so hard-fought like that, unfortunately someone had to lose. I give our kids credit. They battled to the end. Really proud of Kriss Proctor. The guy played a great football game, did some nice things out there. . . . Fortunately for the Naval Academy, we had one more point than they did."

Navy (7-3) ensured itself of a winning season for the eighth straight time, the most since it won the 10 in a row from 1952 to '61 and the third-longest such streak in program history. The narrow victory over an inferior opponent, however, underscored the Midshipmen's continued travails in the first half of games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The Midshipmen have trailed at halftime in each of their past three home games, including 24-0 to Duke, which entered 1-6, on Oct. 30 in what would result in a 34-31 loss. They also fell behind Southern Methodist, 14-0, on Oct. 16 before rallying for a 28-21 victory.

On Saturday in front of 34,333, Navy again found itself facing a deficit. In this instance it was only by three points, and the Midshipmen quickly erased that for good first with a defensive stop and then marched 64 yards in eight plays for a touchdown and a 28-24 lead.

Proctor fittingly capped the drive with a four-yard run with 6 minutes 48 seconds left in the quarter after starting the series with a 14-yard run that put him over 100 yards rushing. The long play of the possession was a 19-yard run on a pitch left to slotback Bo Snelson to the 12 in which Proctor delivered the ball at the instant he got hit.

Navy's defense continued to reverse course from its leaky beginnings by forcing a punt on Central Michigan's next turn. Taking over at its 26, Navy needed barely more than two minutes to extend the margin to 35-24. Slotback John Howell did the honors with an eight-yard run, but Proctor did much of the heavy lifting with a dazzling 48-yard run that ended at the 14 with him running into the Navy goat on the sideline.

Another defensive stand, this time stopping the Chippewas for a two-yard loss on a fake-punt run, gave Navy the ball at its 49, and the Midshipmen appeared on their way for another touchdown after reaching the 5 to set up first and goal. But a personal foul for an illegal block assessed to right tackle Ryan Basford pushed Navy back to the 18 from where Proctor threw incomplete on third down. The Midshipmen had to settle for Joe Buckley's 35-yard field goal with 7:27 remaining that provided a two-touchdown advantage.

Central Michigan then scored two touchdowns in three minutes. The first was a one-yard run by running back Zurlon Tipton with 3:04 left that finished off a 72-yard drive. Then wide receiver Cody Wilson caught a tipped ball in front of cornerback Kevin Edwards for a seven-yard touchdown with four seconds remaining to set up the dramatic two-point try.

"The whole team wanted to," Chippewas Coach Dan Enos said of the decision to go for the win. "I felt we had momentum. We only made them punt once the whole day, so I didn't want to get into a deal where we would have to go from the 25 [in overtime] and be able to stop them consistently, and I thought our best chance was to win the game outright."

On the conversion attempt, Radcliff had plenty of time to spot Poblah in the back of the end zone, but safety Wyatt Middleton and Edwards had him covered tightly, forcing the errant throw. Thus the defense saved the day after allowing 495 yards, including 394 passing and three touchdowns to Radcliff.

"That definitely was the key play of the game, because it determined whether we won or lost the game," Middleton said. "We kind of knew what was coming. Everybody did their job the last play, and the results happened to turn in our favor."

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