- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Navy came within one play of sealing a victory against a ranked team for the first time in 21 years and winning a bowl game for the third straight season yesterday, and coach Paul Johnson thought he had called it.

Faced with a third-and-6 at the Boston College 38 and a fourth-quarter clock dwindling toward two minutes, slotback Shun White took a pitch to the right and appeared to have picked up a potential game-clinching first down.

Offensive tackle Matt Pritchett was flagged for holding, however, and slotback Reggie Campbell fumbled a pitch on the next play. Boston College linebacker Jolonn Dunbar recovered the ball at the Navy 40, and seconds later walk-on Steve Aponavicius kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Eagles a stunning 25-24 win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

“We got in a different formation, and they ran across with the motion, and they didn’t have anyone out there where we pitched the ball,” Johnson said. “We had the perfect play, and if we don’t get the holding penalty, it is first down, game over or it’s fourth and [inches and] game over — maybe.”

After falling behind 6-0 early, the Midshipmen (9-4) controlled the game on both sides of the ball. Navy compiled 403 yards of offense, including 322 on the ground against the nation’s 13th-ranked rushing defense. The Mids’ defense pressured BC quarterback Matt Ryan into two interceptions and held the Eagles to 73 rushing yards.

But Navy’s offense stalled after marching 85 yards for a field goal to open the second half, and when the Mids made their first critical mistake, the Eagles (10-3) capitalized.

“I take responsibility for all of it,” Campbell said. “It was an elementary play — something that we run every day. We had it, but we just didn’t seal the deal. I am still beating myself over it. I don’t really know how long that it’s going to last. I dropped the ball.”

Navy had little success running between the tackles because of the Eagles’ size advantage, so the Mids focused on testing the perimeter. Campbell, who usually excels in those situations, finished with only 37 yards on 12 carries. Instead it was White (116 yards on seven carries) and Zerbin Singleton (71 yards on six carries and a touchdown) who found plenty of open space in the BC secondary.

After a field goal to start the second half put Navy ahead 24-16, the Mids failed to put together another scoring drive. Field position proved a factor as Navy started two of the next three drives inside its own 10-yard line. Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada scrambled for 23 yards and an apparent first down in BC territory late in the third quarter, but it also was called back by a holding penalty.

“The one on the quarterback draw I saw right in front of me — the guy just blocked his guy to the ground,” Johnson said. “I felt like if we could have gotten up by two scores in the second half, we would have been in pretty good shape. They kind of flipped the field on us with their kicking game. Every time both teams punted we lost yardage.”

The Mids opened the game by unveiling a new unconventional formation with Kaheaku-Enhada as part of a triple-stack of wideouts to one side of the field and Jarod Bryant at quarterback. After fullback Matt Hall fumbled to set up the Eagles’ first touchdown, Kaheaku-Enhada moved back under center and completed his first four passes, including touchdown tosses to receivers Tyree Barnes and Jason Tomlinson.

Ryan, a first team All-ACC selection, was not nearly as comfortable. Navy sacked the Eagles quarterback three times and forced him out of the pocket on several other occasions.

“We were bringing heat. We were bringing every blitz in every way that you could imagine and found a couple things we liked in the second half,” Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “I think this is my 15th bowl game as an assistant coach, and I’ve never had a senior class play as hard in their final game as these guys played.”

The victory gives interim coach Frank Spaziani his first at the collegiate level and Boston College its first 10-win season since 1984. BC has won seven straight bowl games — the longest such streak in the country. Dunbar, who also returned two fumbles for touchdowns against Maryland earlier this season, was named the game’s MVP.

Navy’s senior class came up just short in its bid to win more games than any other group in program history, settling for a tie with the Class of 1909 at 35. Several of the seniors lingered on the field as BC players swarmed in celebration around them after Aponavicius’ kick was true.

“From the highest you could possibly get to the lowest or almost the lowest,” Navy linebacker David Mahoney said. “It was a good game, and we played with such high emotion the whole game, and then it just went straight to that low when the field goal went through.”

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