Navy cornerback Chuck Zingler knocked down two passes in his end zone in the final minute today to preserve a 13-9 triumph over upset-minded Air Force before 31,109 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Air Force (0-5) trailed, 13-0, before mounting a furious surge in the final minutes. The Falcons had a chance to win the game as quarterback Dave Ziebart, who completed 15 of 27 passes for 180 yards, directed his team to the Navy nine-yard line with 30 seconds to play.
On a third down, Ziebart was pressured by Navy's Reggie Trass, but managed to loft a soft pass toward Scott Schafer. Zingler, playing the tight end man to man, knifed in front of the received and slapped Schafer's arms and the ball as both players fell in the end zone.
"I hit the ball right before he caught it," said Zingler. "I was just trying to strip him from the ball. That's a popular play down close and I had a feeling they might try the play again."
Zingler was right. On the Falcons' final gasp, Ziebart rolled to his right again. This time, Air Force's new career leader in total offense had more time and threw to tight end Danny Malm, who was open for a split second.
But again Zingler recovered. This time he dove and slapped the ball down with both hands to ice the unbeated Mids' fourth victory.
"I was beaten last year on a similar play," Zingler said. "And the long pass earlier in the game was my fault. Fortunately, I got a chance to make up for it."
Navy went flat after jumping to a 13-0 lead on Steve Callahan's two touchdowns before the game was 10 minutes old. Air Force used deception plays and "screen and flare passed us to death," said Navy defensive end Charlie (Thunder) Thornton, to make its run in the second half.
A minus-two yard punt into the wind by Middie Lex Lauletta gave Air Force its best field position of the day at its 40 with 5:25 left in the third period.
A roughing the kicker penalty on Trass kept the Falcon drive alive and Jim Sturch kicked a 37-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 13-3 with 2:09 left.
Then the Falcons, with Ziebart dumping off short passes to his backs, went 9 yards for their touchdown. The big play in that drive was Ziebart's flare pass George James for 36 yards. On the ninth play, Ziebart threw 24-yards to reserve tailback Ron Merrix for a touchdown that brought Air Force to 13:9 with 5:45 to play.
Air Force Coach Ken Hatfield went for two points, hoping to get into position for a winning field goal.
But a five-yard delay of game penalty moved the ball back to the eight. Ziebart dropped back to pass but never had a chance as Thornton barreled in from the right side and decked the quarterback from the blind side.
"He didn't see me," said Thornton. "He held the ball a little long and he didn't have a back blocking on my side. I knew I had to try to get him before he got the pass off. I knew they had a good field goal kicker."
Perhaps Thornton sensed the surging Falcons would come right back against him and his tiring mates. They did. Ziebart, dropping off passes to his favorite receiver, fullback Mike Fortson (10 receptions for 61 yards), again led his team up the field.
"We couldn't stop them," said Navy Coach George Welsh. "I think we got a bit tired. They screened us all day. We were hanging on."
Ziebart's sideline floated to split end Scott Schafer, who had gotten behind a fallen Zingler, was good for 36 yards. An 11-yard flea-flicker, with Ziebart on the receiving end, moved the ball to the 16-yard line.
Two running plays advanced the ball to the nine, before Zingler single handedly stopped the threat.
Navy, getting good running between the tackles from Callahan (88 yards on 13 attempts) and Mike Hserlock (108 yards on 16 carries), had things its own way earlier.
On Navy's third play from scrimmage, Callahan broke off right tackle, shrugged off a hit by safety Johnny Jackson and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. Steve Fehr added the points after kick and Navy led, 7-0, with 3:09 elapsed.
The Mids moved ahead, 13-0, several minutes later as Callahan capped a nine-play, 56-yard drive with a one-yard drive. Fehr's kick was blocked but it didn't seem to matter at the time.
"Navy was pumped up at the start and they broke one big play on us," said Hatfield. "They started off strong and they looked like they were going to blow us out. But we fought back."
Navy's defense, burned for a season high 303 yards, did a good job of containing the fiesty, quick-footed Ziebert for three periods. He gained only 27 yards rushing on 15 carries. Of the 303 team yards, 198 came on the two Air Force scoring drives and the final trip upfield in the final minutes.
"I don't know why we couldn't score after those two drives," said Welsh. "The penalties (nine for 107 yards) hurt us. We have very few penalties called on us our first three games and then we get four or five 15-yarders in one game. But that still doesn't explain what happened in the fourth period.
"We didn't get a good pass rush and Ziebart got outside on us a bit. I didn't see either play Zingler made in the end zone. I was screened out."
Fortunately for Navy, Zingler wasn't.