Syracuse kicker Russ Carpentieri missed a 46-yard-field goal attempt with five seconds left, enabling Navy to escape with a dramatic 20-18 victory before 44,443 today at the Carrier Dome.
"There was no luck involved," said Navy Coach Gary Tranquill, with a bit of sarcasm. "He didn't have to miss. We didn't have to fumble the ball, either."
Tranquill was referring to a fumbled handoff by tailback Napoleon McCallum at the Navy 48 with 1:01 left in the game. Before that, McCallum had rushed for 147 yards, a 27-yard touchdown run and four punt returns for 30 yards; that was 15 yards more than he needed to set a school single-season record for yardage on punt returns (280).
"The coach told me to hold the ball with both hands, get a first down . . . I remember him saying it when we went on the field," McCallum said. "I thought I had the ball. I hit the ground and it was gone."
Linebacker Rich Roche's recovery gave the Orange the ball at the Syracuse 45 and set the stage for an exciting finish.
Two short pass completions by Todd Norley and a five-yard run moved the ball to the Navy 29 with nine seconds left. Carpentieri, who earlier made a 32-yarder and missed a 50-yard try, then came on try to give the Orange (2-7) a victory in their final home game of the 1982 season.
Navy put on a good rush but the senior got the kick off. The ball had enough distance but faded wide right at the last minute and the Midshipmen were spared.
"I hit it pretty good, I thought I made it," Carpentieri said. "There was no pressure. Hey, I hoped for that fumble. I wanted to get an opportunity to kick. I got it, I just missed the kick."
Navy, plagued by injuries, lost its sixth and seventh defensive end in the last three weeks. Tranquill may have to ask for volunteers at those two positions. Ken Fancher, normally a linebacker, broke his left arm and Ed Pierson, moved up from junior varsity, suffered a severe knee sprain.
The Orange finally started attacking the Mishipmen flanks and rallied from 10-0 and 20-10 deficits. Jaime Covington (73 yards on 22 carries) and four other Syracuse running backs tried time and again to break the long gain around the ends. But the Midshipmen refused to give in.
After McCallum's 27-yard touchdown run up the middle put Navy ahead, 17-10, Covington and Syracuse put together two fourth-period drives, moving to the Navy one and 26 yard lines.
On a second and goal from the one, Orange quarterback Todd Norley fumbled the ball in the end zone when he tried to go up and over the middle and lean in with the ball. Navy's Craig Williams recovered for a touchback with two minutes elapsed in the period.
On the second drive, the Orange reached the 26 before Norley lost nine yards on a botched play. Carpentieri eventually came on but missed a 50-yard field goal try with seven minutes to play.
Navy went to its ball control game to work some time off the clock. McCallum, running away from Syracuse's 6-foot-4, 278-pound right tackle Mike Charles, ran eight straight plays totaling 43 yards to the Orange 23. Todd Solomon came in and kicked a 39-yard field goal and Navy had what appeared a safe lead, 20-10, with 3:09 remaining.
Norley, throwing to four different receivers, including a 30-yarder to Nick Bruckner, moved his team 75 yards for a score. Covington went in from the two and holder Jim Gorzalski threw to Brent Ziegler for the two-point conversion. That cut Navy's lead to 20-18.
McCallum then made his untimely mistake. "All I thought about was a Cinderella Syracuse finish when they started driving," he said. "And when the guy came on to kick, I couldn't do anything but watch and hope."
Navy outplayed the hosts in the first half. The Mishipmen punted on their first possession but punt returner Bruckner, unwisely tried to field the kick inside his 10. He fumbled and Fancher fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Steve Young's kick made it 7-0, with 11:43 to play in the first period.
Navy increased its lead to 10-0 on a 24-yard field goal by Solomon after the Midshipmen failed to score on three tries inside the eight.
Syracuse bounced back to tie the game. Ziegler scored on a one-yard run late in the second period and Carpentieri made a 32-yard field goal with just over 10 minutes left in the third period.