2:00 PM ET, October 7, 2006
Falcon Stadium, UNITED STATES AF ACA, CO
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- Paul Johnson took a sip of his Diet Pepsi, gathered his thoughts and then broke out into a grin.
"Proud to be the coach of the luckiest team in America," the Navy head coach said after the Midshipmen's 24-17 win over Air Force Saturday.
All week long, the Midshipmen have reportedly read press clippings from Air Force players saying how "embarrassing" it was to lose to Navy. But for the fourth year in a row that's what happened.
"You get tired of hearing that every year," Johnson said. "Every day you pick up the paper and read that. It gets old after a while."
Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry isn't sure where the bulletin-board quotes came from.
"He didn't hear it from my football team," he said.
Regardless of who said what, Navy (5-1) takes its first step toward retaining the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, given annually to the best of the three service academies. Navy has won three straight trophies.
Navy's senior class is one step from becoming the first in school history to go 4-0 against both Air Force (2-2) and Army. All that stands in the way is Army on Dec. 2.
"That would be a huge honor," senior David Mahoney said. "We want to leave our mark here."
Air Force, trailing 24-7 midway through the fourth quarter, pulled within a touchdown with 3:06 left and recovered the onside kick.
Navy's defense ended the comeback attempt when Rashawn King broke up Shaun Carney's pass to Victor Thompson on a fourth-and-6 at the Navy 47.
The Midshipmen weren't the least bit worried. They practice a similar late-game drill every day -- only the ball's placed at the 2-yard line.
"We had a little more room," Keenan Little said. "It feels good to have the defense win one."
Navy's offense also did its share. The inside-outside rushing attack of Adam Ballard and Brian Hampton helped the Midshipmen methodically move the ball all afternoon. Ballard rushed 134 yards on 27 carries and Hampton contributed 105 yards and two touchdowns. The Midshipmen totaled 317 yards on the ground, down from their 357-yard average.
Ballard, who was named the game's MVP, gained the tough yards inside. Afterward, the economics major had a simple explanation for his success.
"A lot of it is just momentum," he said. "You know, mass times acceleration. It comes down to that."
Hampton simply bounced off Falcons tacklers for his fifth 100-yard game of the season. His 1-yard touchdown dive in the second quarter marked the sixth straight game he's scored.
Yet all he wanted to talk about after the game was Ballard.
"He was a beast," Hampton said. "He was lowering his shoulder and carrying guys 3 yards on every play. We did a good job running the football."
Never more so than in the third quarter. That's when Navy all but put the game away with two time-consuming drives that resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Matt Harmon and a 2-yard touchdown run by Hampton. Navy had the ball for more than 13 minutes in the third quarter. The Midshipmen ran 26 plays to Air Force's five.
"That was just what the doctor ordered," Johnson said.
Air Force managed to cut the lead to 24-17 in the fourth quarter on Zach Sasser's 30-yard field goal and Carney's 5-yard touchdown pass to Travis Dekker with 3:06 remaining.
The Falcons struggled to get their ground game on track, finishing with 193 yards on the ground. They came in averaging 290.
"They gave us a good lesson as to how to control the football," DeBerry said. "My heart bleeds for our seniors because they're disappointed, not having beat a Navy team while they were here."
There was a bit of controversy late in the first quarter. Navy's Rob Caldwell stripped Carney of the ball and Little scooped it up for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
Air Force coaches jumped up and down, emphatically trying to call a time-out to review the play. Navy hurried to kick the extra point and officials didn't see the time-out request. Replays showed Carney's knee may have been down.
"I thought I was down," said Carney, who threw a season-high 19 passes for 119 yards. "We'll let the TV decide on that one."<
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||11-17||6-13|
|4th Down Conversions||1-1||0-1|
|TD||0:24||KEENAN LITTLE 37 YD DEFENSIVE FUMBLE RETURN (JOEY BULLEN III KICK)||7||0|
|TD||11:49||CHAD HALL 8 YD RUN (ZACH SASSER KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||4:23||BRIAN HAMPTON 1 YD RUN (JOEY BULLEN III KICK)|
Drive info: 14 plays, 80 yards.
|FG||8:15||MATTHEW HARMON 38 YD FG|
Drive info: 13 plays, 57 yards.
|TD||14:40||BRIAN HAMPTON 2 YD RUN (MATTHEW HARMON KICK)|
Drive info: 15 plays, 80 yards.
|FG||9:48||ZACH SASSER 30 YD FG|
Drive info: 13 plays, 65 yards.
|TD||3:06||TRAVIS DEKKER 5 YD PASS FROM SHAUN CARNEY (ZACH SASSER KICK)|
Drive info: 13 plays, 80 yards.