Navy 28, Duke 21
-- On an option play late in the fourth quarter Saturday, Navy senior quarterback Lamar Owens saw the opening as soon as he tucked the football underneath his arm. When the Duke defense slid left, Owens cut back and ran 52 yards to the 15-yard line, the biggest play of his career.
Four plays later, Owens scored on a two-yard run with 1 minute 18 seconds remaining, lifting Navy to a 28-21 victory at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Midshipmen's first win of the season.
Senior outside linebacker David Mahoney broke up junior Mike Schneider's pass on the goal line as time expired, preventing the Midshipmen (1-2) from collapsing in the fourth quarter for the third consecutive game.
"All week, we talked about finishing because in the first two games we didn't finish," said Owens, whose team had allowed 40 points combined in the second half in three-point losses to Maryland and Stanford. "But this game, we finished."
Navy, which rushed for a season-high 326 yards and posted 413 yards of total offense, hosts Air Force next Saturday in Annapolis for the first time since 1997.
Duke (1-4) rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the score at 21. After freshman Zack Asack's six-yard touchdown run capped a 17-play, 66-yard drive, Asack threw a fade pass to freshman Eron Riley in the corner of the end zone for a tying two-point conversion with 3:20 remaining.
But just when it appeared that Duke had seized the momentum in front of a homecoming crowd of 15,246, Owens broke loose on the first play from scrimmage after freshman Karlos Whittaker returned the kickoff to the Navy 33.
"This was like a replay of our first two games, but we were able to win this one," said junior inside linebacker Rob Caldwell, who made a game-high 14 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage. "This win is big win for us because it's a huge confidence booster."
After Duke opened the second half with a 43-yard field goal by freshman Joe Surgan to take a 10-7 lead, Navy countered with an eight-play, 85-yard drive that was fueled by a 52-yard run by sophomore slot back Reggie Campbell. Whittaker's five-yard touchdown run gave the Midshipmen a 14-10 lead with 5:17 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of Navy's next possession, Owens, who completed 4 of 9 passes for 87 yards and rushed for a game-high 106 yards on 13 carries, handed the ball to junior fullback Matt Hall. Hall burst through the line of scrimmage and made two defenders miss as he bounced outside for a 47-yard touchdown, extending Navy's lead to 21-10 with 3:10 left in the quarter.
Navy's third-quarter domination came after the Blue Devils had the ball for 19:25 of the first half. Still, the score was tied at 7 at intermission largely because Duke committed a turnover and missed a field goal attempt in two of its three trips inside Navy's 25-yard line.
Early on, Navy looked like a team that was playing its first game after a 21-day layoff. After forcing Duke to punt deep in its own territory, Navy drove to the Duke 10-yard line, but on third and goal, junior cornerback John Talley intercepted an underthrown ball at the 5.
"We definitely weren't playing our best game in the beginning and that showed," said Hall, who rushed for 66 yards on eight carries. "I don't know if that was from the layoff or whatever, but it was our fault."
After Navy tied the score on Owens's 33-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Tyree Barnes, Duke opened the second quarter with a 15-play drive that consumed more than eight minutes, but Asack was intercepted by junior cornerback Keenan Little on the 14-yard line. On Duke's next possession, it drove 41 yards in 10 plays to Navy's 22, but Surgan missed a 40-yard field goal attempt as time expired in the first half.
"It's hard to get momentum going when you go on long drives and come away with no points at all," Mahoney said. "But we need to do a better job of not giving up such long drives."