ANNAPOLIS — Accepting a second straight loss to Air Force won't be easy for Navy as it moves forward in its season.
It won't be any more palatable considering how overtime of the Midshipmen's 35-34 loss Saturday unfolded.
Navy's hopes of reclaiming the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy are gone. Its record fell to 2-2, with two losses by a combined four points. And one of the nation's most disciplined teams can point directly to an unsportsmanlike conduct call on quarterback Kriss Proctor to explain how its comeback was foiled.
Back judge David Vaughan flagged Proctor after he scored a go-ahead touchdown on the first possession of overtime. The 15-yard penalty was assessed on the extra point, and kicker Jon Teague's low line drive was easily blocked. Air Force scored a touchdown and an extra point on the next possession to win.
Replays showed Proctor bumped into defensive end Nick DeJulio shortly after hopping up off a scrum after sneaking into the end zone. He then ran around much of the Air Force defense before bumping Falcons defensive back Jon Davis on the way to celebrate with teammates.
Mike Defee, the referee for the Big 12 crew that worked the game, said Proctor "got in the face of an Air Force player right after the play." Proctor said "I just told [an Air Force player] to move, explicitly" before the flag was thrown.
"There's a lot of stuff when you have rivalry games and you say 'Hey, guys, go chill out' because there's stuff going on," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "But to make that call then is a huge, huge penalty. It just changes the whole complexion of the deal. I hope those guys can sleep well tonight."
There are more pressing matters for Navy beyond its gripes with an officiating crew it will likely never see again, though it is worth noting the Mids' 67 penalty yards were their most since piling up 69 in the 2007 season opener against Temple. There are, after all, eight games remaining.
The Commander-In-Chief's Trophy cannot be won — at best for the Mids, there could be a three-way tie with Air Force retaining the trophy based on last year's victory — but Navy still has plenty in its favor moving forward even as it moves on from the closest game between service academies since Army's 14-13 defeat of Navy in 1995.
Navy still is in sound position to reach its ninth consecutive bowl game, which this year is a trip to the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium. It also can reach the eight-win plateau for the ninth consecutive year.
The penalty aside, Proctor produced a brilliant performance. He rushed for three touchdowns, passed for another and has accounted for 410 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns through four games.
The tandem of Proctor and fullback Alexander Teich give the Mids two heavily utilized prongs of the triple option who are helping to carry an offense that erased a 28-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
The pair complement an increasingly healthy defense that, after an early gashing against the Falcons, limited Air Force to four or fewer plays on four of its last five meaningful regulation possessions.
Despite the anguish and the anger — Teich described the unsportsmanlike conduct call and its timing as "pitiful" — two-thirds of the season remain. Navy won't get another crack at Air Force for a year, but plenty can be done in the interim as the Mids start to think about the rematch in Colorado Springs next fall.
"It's our last one and we wish we could have taken it home with us, but oh well," safety Kwesi Mitchell said of the seniors' final chance to beat Air Force. "These guys coming up next year, [slotback] Gee Gee [Greene]'s class, they have something to look forward to. We're still going to finish out this season, but they'll have that date circled on their calendar."
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