Navy 27, Air Force 24
Joey Bullen knew it was good as soon as it left his foot. Bullen's 46-yard field goal, through the wind and driving rain, split the uprights with four-tenths of a second remaining to lift Navy to a 27-24 victory over Air Force yesterday in front of 35,211 at Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The field goal, the longest of Bullen's brief career, set off a massive celebration, as hundreds of members of the Brigade jumped from the stands to the sideline, a few yards from where Bullen was buried by jubilant teammates.
"This win was not only for our program, but it was for the entire Navy brotherhood," senior quarterback Lamar Owens said. "It's a game that everyone is going to remember for the rest of their lives."
Bullen, a sophomore who was cut from the soccer team last year and spent last season kicking for the school's sprint football team, was the last hero on an afternoon filled with many.
The Midshipmen (2-2) trailed by 10 points with 4 minutes 5 seconds remaining in the third quarter but rallied to post their third straight three-point victory over Air Force (2-4). The win also gives Navy the inside track at retaining the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which will remain in Bancroft Hall for the third straight year with either a victory over Army on Dec. 3 or an Air Force victory over Army on Nov. 5
"It feels real good to beat these guys who basically tried to call us out and come in our house and take a trophy that they claim is theirs," said Owens, who completed 8 of 12 passes for 171 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushed for 64 yards on 20 carries. "We weren't going to let that happen."
Said Air Force sophomore quarterback Shaun Carney, whose team made one first down in the fourth quarter: "It hurts. The goals of our program are gone."
Bullen kicked a 20-yard field goal on the final play of the third quarter to cut Navy's deficit to 24-17. Then, with 2:22 left in the game, sophomore slotback Reggie Campbell broke a 40-yard touchdown run, and Bullen's extra point tied the score at 24.
Navy's defense held on Air Force's ensuing possession, and senior Donny Heaton shanked a nine-yard punt, giving the Midshipmen excellent field position at the Air Force 35-yard line with 45 seconds remaining.
Navy gained four yards during the next two plays, and on third down, Coach Paul Johnson sent in the field goal kicking team, causing Air Force to call timeout with 29 seconds remaining. When play resumed, Navy ran one more play, even though it was out of timeouts, and Owens gained three yards. Navy's kicking team ran onto the field and snapped the ball with four seconds to play.
"For this to happen the way it did, it was like a dream," Bullen said. "It was almost better that it happened that way by having to rush onto the field because all I had to worry about was making the kick because they weren't going to call timeout."
Navy trailed 17-7 after giving up a long touchdown pass in the final seconds of the first half, but responded with its longest play of the season on its second play of the third quarter. Owens dropped back and found wide receiver Jason Tomlinson, who broke a tackle near midfield for a 61-yard touchdown.
"We knew coming in they were vulnerable to the deep ball," said Tomlinson, who caught four passes for a career-high 114 yards, the most by a Navy player since 2002.
Air Force extended its lead to 24-14 on a seven-yard run by junior running back Justin Handley.
After stalling on its first two possessions of the fourth quarter, Navy appeared to be down to its last chance when it took over at its 20 with 4:26 remaining. During the drive, the Midshipmen converted a fourth and one from its 29 and moved the ball to the 40 on Owens's 29-yard pass over the middle to Campbell.
On the next play, Owens cut to his left, and as the defense converged he flipped to Campbell, who broke a tackle and ran into the end zone for the game-tying score.
"As soon as I caught the ball, I was just in a zone and they were not going to catch me," Campbell said. "In my book, this game will be remembered forever, and I'm sure that's the same way with a lot of people."