- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The first half of Navy’s season has resembled a popular movie franchise with several sequels. Each game has an eerily similar plot with an only slightly altered ending.

Offensive ineptitude, normally caused by turnovers, in the first half? Check.

A defense keeping the game either in reach or in control? Sure.

An offense squandering chances to put the game away early in the second half? Gotcha.

The offense wearing down opposing defenses before finding new ways and often new heroes in the fourth quarter? Yep.

And another victory for Navy? You bet.

“We’ve found ways to win each week that are different,” coach Paul Johnson said Thursday night after his unbeaten (5-0) Midshipmen defeated Air Force 24-21. “This is a resilient bunch. I told them in the locker room there is no question they believe they’re going to win. They find a way.”

The latest heroes were kicker Geoff Blumenfeld and slotback Marco Nelson.

Blumenfeld had been having a nightmarish senior season, missing all four of his field goal attempts. And Navy could have tried to score a touchdown in the final minute after driving to the Air Force 16 with two timeouts left. But Johnson said he had a feeling Blumenfeld would make the kick, so he called for two plays to position the ball in the middle of the field and set the stage for an improbable finish.

“Earlier in the season, I thought I was striking the ball well but I was just a little unlucky,” Blumenfeld said. “I love kicking. I wouldn’t want any other job on the team. I love that role. I’m comfortable with it.”

Nelson, meanwhile, was not on the team’s preseason two-deep and didn’t touch the football in Navy’s first two games. Since then, his opportunities have increased each week — because, Johnson said, of his increased production in practice. He caught two passes for 70 yards Thursday, including a 66-yarder that ignited a hibernating offense.

Quarterback Aaron Polanco was sacked on the previous play leaving Navy with a third-and-19. Momentum had clearly swung in Air Force’s favor, and the Mids had the ball on the part of the field closest to the frenzied Cadet Wing. Had Polanco not avoided another sack and found Nelson, it is likely the Falcons now would be preparing to beat Army and reclaim the Commander In Chief’s Trophy.

“It was an amazing game, because offensively we just disappeared in the third quarter,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen a team so lethargic and nonchalant. There wasn’t anything I could do to prod them. … Then all of a sudden [Air Force] scored, and it was like the care factor came back.”

Despite allowing 15 points in the fourth quarter — eight more than it had allowed all season in the final period — the defense continued to be the catalyst of Navy’s resurgence.

Air Force wants to run the ball just as badly as Navy does, and the Falcons averaged 3.2 yards a rush. Normally it is Navy’s offense that churns out long drives and eats up the clock, but Air Force dominated possession for the first three quarters.

Navy’s defense yielded field goals and not touchdowns, however, and allowed the offense time to find a rhythm and move the ball.

“We sure hurt ourselves and shot ourselves in the foot with penalties,” Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said. “We didn’t get touchdowns and settled for field goals. Those things will come back, and I worried about it in the first quarter.”

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