In a season in which Navy has consistently found new and inventive ways to lose, the Midshipmen made history yesterday with a 35-29 loss to Akron--a defeat that school officials believe is the largest blown lead in Navy history, dating from 1879.
Navy held a 23-0 lead midway through the second quarter but surrendered 35 of the next 41 points, including Jimmie Gray's 11-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes 52 seconds left to put the Zips ahead for good on Navy's homecoming day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
To make matters worse, Navy may have lost starting quarterback Brian Broadwater, who left the game after the first series of the fourth quarter with what team officials said was a bruised right collarbone. He will be evaluated this week.
"I think everyone in the stands should get a refund for the way we played today," Navy defensive end Gino Marchetti said. "It's inexcusable. . . . We get the week off and we come out playing like [this] today. It's shocking."
The loss was the fourth in five games for Navy, which fell to 2-5 in losing for the fourth straight time at home.
"We've got to learn to put the nail in the coffin," Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "We've got to learn killer instinct. When it's time to put a team away, you've got to put them away."
Early on, it appeared that Navy would run away with it.
Playing with a stiff breeze at their backs, the Midshipmen jumped on Akron (6-2) from the opening drive, taking a 2-0 lead when Akron punter Jon Eaton could not handle a low snap from the Zips 16 and was called for intentional grounding in his own end zone.
After getting the ball back on the free kick, Navy needed three plays to extend the lead to 9-0 when Broadwater found tight end Dave Rautenback alone down the right sideline for a 56-yard touchdown.
Broadwater also found Brandon Rampani for a 62-yard touchdown, then scored on a one-yard run to give the Midshipmen what seemed to be a commanding 23-0 lead with 12:50 left in the second quarter.
But the lead did not hold.
Akron cut the margin to 23-10 late in the second quarter on Butchie Washington's 41-yard pass to Lavel Bailey (seven receptions, 143 yards) and Zac Derr's 45-yard field goal.
The Midshipmen held a 29-13 lead early in the fourth quarter after two Tim Shubzda field goals sandwiched around another 45-yard field goal by Derr when everything collapsed.
Aided by 54 yards of penalties in the half, Akron cut Navy's lead to 29-21 on Brandon Payne's six-yard run and two-point conversion catch with 12:43 left. Navy went nowhere on its next drive. Payne returned Tray Calisch's punt 66 yards, losing his balance and spinning out of a tackle before racing down the sideline to make it 29-27. Washington then ran for the conversion, tying it at 29 with 11:05 left.
The Zips took the lead with a nine-play, 77-yard drive, capped by Gray's run.
The Midshipmen, whose offense sputtered throughout the second half, had one final chance to take the lead. But on a drive that featured three Navy penalties, backup quarterback Brian Madden, needing 25 yards for a first down, failed to complete consecutive Hail Mary attempts, and Navy turned over the ball on downs with 4:46 left.
The win gave Akron its first four-game winning streak since 1986, and clinched the Zips' first winning season since 1992.
"To beat a team like Navy, with all their tradition, with it being homecoming and everything a team has going against you," Akron Coach Lee Owens said. "This is as big a win [we've had] in a long time."