7:45 PM ET, September 30, 2004
Falcon Stadium, Usaf Academy, CO
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Geoff Blumenfeld lined up for the game-winning kick, only to head back to the sideline because of a timeout. He trotted back out to the field again and -- yep -- another timeout.
Entering the game 0-for-the-season, Blumenfeld should have been nervous from the stalling tactic. He wasn't.
Blumenfeld picked a good time to make his first field goal, nailing a 30-yarder with four seconds left to lift Navy to a 24-21 victory over Air Force on Thursday night.
"What an opportunity," Blumenfeld said. "All year long we've talked about getting opportunities and taking the opportunities afforded you. Tonight was an opportunity."
Blumenfeld's kick has given Navy (5-0) a chance to do something it hasn't done since 1981 -- win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy in consecutive years. The Midshipmen ended Air Force's six-year run last year with a 28-25 victory and can repeat as service academy champion by beating Army on Dec. 4.
Air Force (2-3), on the other hand, is looking for ways to turn around what has so far been a disappointing season. After losses to California and Utah, both ranked teams, the Falcons are off to their worst start since opening the 1994 season 0-3.
"I still think we have a competitive football team," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said. "It'll be interesting to see how our team rebounds now after such a disappointing loss."
The matchup between two of the nation's top rushing teams was decided by a couple key passes down the stretch -- and one big kick by Blumenfeld.
Air Force, eighth in the nation with 278 yards rushing per game, managed just 182 against the Midshipmen before turning to the air.
Shaun Carney, who was replaced by Adam Fitch in the third quarter, returned to hit J.P. Waller on a 38-yard pass between two defenders and Alec Messerall on a 10-yarder to Navy's 19. Carney, who finished with 221 yards, hit Darnell Stephens for a touchdown on the next play and then ran in for the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
"When I came back, it was like, 'It's time to roll or we're not going to win,'" said Carney, who went 17-for-21 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. "Everybody on offense had to step up and that's just what we did."
It just wasn't enough.
Navy, which had 22 total yards and no first downs in the third quarter, countered with a 66-yard pass from Aaron Polanco to Marco Nelson on a third-and-2. That set up Kyle Eckel's 3-yard touchdown run on an option right.
Air Force came right back down the field behind Carney's passing, tying the game on his 12-yard pass to Waller with 2:21 left.
Navy got the ball back at its own 25-yard line and quickly moved down the field.
Polanco broke off a 32-yard run up the middle to the Air Force 29 and then Eric Roberts went off left tackle for 13 more. After three runs up the middle, out trotted Blumenfeld, who split the uprights, leaped an Air Force defender and pumped his fist as he ran toward the sideline.
"I didn't have any doubt he was going to make it," Navy coach Paul Johnson said.
It had to be a relief after the way the Midshipmen started the game.
Polanco threw an interception on Navy's fifth play and Jason Tomlinson fumbled a punt just three minutes later. The Midshipmen weren't much better on defense, allowing Air Force to hold the ball for 12:56 of the first quarter.
Despite the sluggish start, Navy trailed just 6-0 after holding Air Force to Mike Greenaway's two short field goals.
"We traded field goals for touchdowns and I really thought that might come back to bite us," DeBerry said. "And it did."
The Midshipmen finally got going by getting the ball to Eckel.
The fullback didn't touch the ball in the first quarter and then carried four straight times for 36 yards to start the second. Eckel bulled his way for 176 yards against the Falcons last season, so their natural reaction was to start keying on him. That opened up the rest of Navy's offense.
Air Force free safety Mark Carlson followed Eckel on a misdirection play late in the second quarter, leaving Polanco free to go up the middle for an 18-yard touchdown run. Polanco then hit Frank Divis on a 13-yard pass on fourth-and-10 from the Air Force 35, setting up his 1-yard touchdown dive.
"It was an amazing game," Johnson said.