Navy 28, Northeastern 24
The Navy coaches and players hardly seemed thrilled following their 28-24 victory over Division I-AA Northeastern before 25,115 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium yesterday.
Never mind that the victory gave the Midshipmen consecutive wins to open a season for the first time in eight years. Navy is 2-0 for the first time since 1996 and just the third time since 1981. But it was not easy against Northeastern, which is ranked No. 18 in Division I-AA.
Navy's first play from scrimmage was a pass that was intercepted. The Midshipmen missed a 26-yard field goal attempt -- with the ball spotted in the middle of the field -- that prompted Navy Coach Paul Johnson to say later that the team "probably has the worst kicking game in the country right now."
They lost a fumble when a punt landed on the head of sophomore Byron McCoy and was recovered by Northeastern. They were sacked on a play in which they had nine players protecting quarterback Aaron Polanco.
"We could never get anything going consistently on offense," Johnson said. "The punt, that's a freak thing. . . . You could play years and not have that happen."
Northeastern looked a little threadbare when it took the field with only 52 players and two equipment managers.
Those players, however, include transfers from Temple, Syracuse, Tennessee, Michigan, Louisiana Tech and Arizona State. They also have two All-Mets -- starting running back Anthony Riley (DeMatha) and reserve defensive end A.J. Lillie (Gaithersburg).
Northeastern Coach Rocky Hager won two Division II national titles as the head coach at North Dakota State in the 1990s. He also was defensive coordinator there when the team gave up a Division II-record 6.8 points per game in 1986.
He referred to Navy's offensive scheme as "the double-slot option thing" during the week, but by game time he showed he was pretty familiar with its execution -- and how to stop it.
Polanco had a 36-yard carry on his team's first run. It was Navy's longest play. Senior fullback Kyle Eckel finished with 55 yards on 18 carries; his longest run was nine yards. It was his lowest total since he had 53 yards in a loss to Notre Dame last November.
The Midshipmen finished with 300 yards rushing, though they had 101 in the first 4 minutes 30 seconds.
"They were pretty physical inside," Johnson said. "Their nose guard and linebacker were really good; they gave us fits. It was hard to get anything for the fullback."
Said Polanco: "They were coming down on [Eckel] a lot with their defensive ends. Every team's got their plan. But that's the triple option, there are three ways to go about it."
Navy started slowly yesterday. The first play was supposed to be a short pass for Jason Tomlinson. Instead, Tomlinson went long, and Polanco's pass was intercepted by sophomore Richard Orah (Gaithersburg) and returned to the 1-yard line. Northeastern scored a touchdown two plays later, a one-yard run by Shawn Brady.
Navy answered with a four-play drive. The first three were rushes of 36, 9 and 11 yards by Polanco; the last was a two-yard touchdown run by Polanco that tied the score at 7 with 11:59 left in the first quarter.
Northeastern took a 14-7 lead following a 24-yard touchdown run by Riley with 11:04 left in the first half and led 17-14 at halftime.
Navy scored the first two touchdowns of the second half, on a one-yard by Polanco and a three-yard run by senior Frank Divis, and led 28-17 with 9:05 left in the third quarter.
The Huskies closed to 28-24 following a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brady to junior Cory Parks with 3:12 left in the third.
The fourth quarter was scoreless. Polanco finished with 143 yards rushing, and senior safety Josh Smith had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery. Seniors Reggie Sealey and Vaughn Kelley, and sophomore Hunter Reddick also had their first career interceptions for Navy.
The Huskies' Brady was 20 of 29 for 176 yards.
"There are tons of reasons for us to have pride in our performance," Hager said. "Whether we were playing a I-A or I-AA school. But I'm not into moral victories."
For once, Navy is not worried about moral victories, either.
"A win's a win," senior linebacker Lane Jackson said. "It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it."