- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Quarterback Aaron Polanco demonstrated yesterday that opponents aren’t assured of a victory against Navy when they slow down the Midshipmen’s rushing attack.

Polanco completed nine of 14 passes for 176 yards as undefeated Navy held off a late rally to defeat Vanderbilt 29-26 before 32,809 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“Aaron made some great plays today, some great individual plays,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “He stayed alive back there until he was able to make a play.”

Navy’s senior quarterback hit slotback Marco Nelson for a 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and punched in the decisive score himself on a 22-yard option keeper in the fourth quarter.

Polanco’s scamper put Navy up 29-19, but Vanderbilt became the first team to score on the Mids’ defense in the final period this season when quarterback Jay Cutler eluded a blitz and fired a scoring strike to Marlon White with 2:30 left.

Vanderbilt (0-3) tried an onside kick, but Navy senior captain Josh Smith charged forward and grabbed the attempt before it went the mandatory 10 yards, and the Mids (4-0) were able to run out the clock.

“That’s something we practice every Thursday — the hands team,” Smith said. “I don’t think I’ve had one kicked to me all year, but it took a big bounce, and that’s when you want to go get it.”

Smith also recovered a fumble on the first play of the game and set up the Commodores’ final fourth down with a sack. Vanderbilt’s offense was able to move the ball for much of the day, but after the Commodores took a 19-14 lead, the Mids’ defense forced two straight three-and-outs that allowed Navy to move ahead by 10.

However, Navy was held to a season-low 190 rushing yards, and its woeful special teams play continued. Polanco led the ground game with 84 yards on 25 carries, but fullback Kyle Eckel was held to his lowest output (37 yards) in 10 games.

Nonetheless, the Mids will be undefeated when they play in front of a national television audience Thursday night at Air Force. As the final seconds ticked away yesterday, the Brigade chanted, “Four-and-oh” and “We want Air Force.”

“We can’t be any better record-wise, and this is a big rivalry game for us no matter what the records are,” Polanco said.

The biggest concern remains the special teams. Kicker Geoff Blumenfeld missed a pair of long field goals in the first quarter. Punter Eric Shuey faked a punt and ran for a first down on Navy’s first series of the second half, but the play was called back because of an illegal block.

On the next play, Shuey punted the ball into Vanderbilt running back Norval McKenzie’s stomach, and it bounced out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

“I wish it were coaching,” Johnson said of the special-team woes. “I think we could fix it. Sooner or later, we’re going to make a field goal. They were longer kicks because we were knuckleheads and got penalties once we were down there.”

Slotback Eric Roberts caught three passes for 58 yards to become the first player in Navy history to gain 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in his career. His acrobatic 34-yard reception in the third quarter led to the Mids’ go-ahead touchdown.

“It shows that people can come to Navy and do that kind of stuff, break records,” Roberts said. “A lot of people think when you come to Navy, you’re not going to have a chance for that because of the option [offense].”

Connecticut 40, Army 3: Dan Orlovsky threw for 288 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Huskies (3-1) over the winless Black Knights (0-3).

No. 14 Utah 49, Air Force 35: Marty Johnson rushed for four touchdowns to lead the Utes (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West) over the Falcons (2-2, 1-1).

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