ANNAPOLIS | Navy endured a year of misery after losing to Air Force last season.
The experience for the next 12 months might be even worse after absorbing a 35-34 loss overtime Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Midshipmen rallied from an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter, only to have an extra point blocked in overtime seconds after quarterback Kriss Proctor was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
Air Force then scored a touchdown and added an extra point on its overtime possession to beat the Mids for the second straight year.
“This is an emotional game,” fullback Alexander Teich said. “These guys know that coming in as a ref. You’re reffing on CBS the Navy-Air Force game. There’s no more emotion, you can’t get any more psyched up about a game like that. You score a touchdown like that at the end, we’d fought back and worked so hard, it’s disappointing. It’s pitiful, really, it’s pitiful. I’m just so upset about that.”
Referee Mike Defee said Proctor “got in the face of an Air Force player right after the play,” a 1-yard touchdown run that gave Navy a 34-28 lead. It was the first lead of the day for the Mids (2-2), who trailed 28-10 early in the fourth quarter.
David Vaughan, the back judge of the Big 12 crew officiating the game, made the call.
“I got up and I was trying to run to our sideline,” Proctor said. “Some guy got in my way and I just told him to move explicitly and he called it. It’s unfortunate that the refs made a call like that, but it’s football. That’s the way it is. If we make that PAT, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
Indeed, the penalty was enforced on the extra point, turning a 20-yard chip shot into a testy 35-yard try. Navy kicker Jon Teague had already missed a 26-yard field goal earlier in the game, and the additional distance into the wind made an immediate impact.
Teague’s kick was instantly low, and might not have made it even if Air Force had not blocked it.
“He just kicked it low,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Jon’s a great kicker for us. It was a low kick. I don’t know if he felt like we were back. The penalty obviously affected the way he tried to drive the ball a little bit. If you don’t have the penalty, you just take your normal deal.”
There was little normal about a game that saw Navy sputter for more than a half while the Falcons (3-1) almost effortlessly moved the ball behind quarterback Tim Jefferson (two rushing touchdowns, one passing score) and running back Asher Clark (two touchdowns).
It was 21-3 at the break, with Air Force converting its first six third-down tries and Navy managing only a field goal in two red zone visits. And it seemed like the Falcons were in fine shape when Clark scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to extend its edge to 28-10.
Then came a Navy 14-play touchdown drive. And a 16-play field goal drive, followed by a perfectly executed onside kick recovered by Brandon Turner with 2:04 to go. Then Proctor turned into Houdini, eluding tacklers on a 27-yard run to push the Mids well into Air Force territory. Five plays later, he found Gee Gee Greene for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
“This kid was making plays that I don’t even know if Mike Vick plays,” Teich said of Proctor.
Teich rushed for 148 yards on 35 carries. Proctor had 134 yards and three touchdowns on 37 attempts.
It was Teich who caught Proctor’s pitch to the left side on the two-point conversion to force overtime. Navy, which ran 105 plays to Air Force’s 51, had so eroded the Falcons’ depleted defense that a touchdown seemed inevitable. And so it was: Proctor reached the end zone to cap an eight-play drive.
Except then Proctor exchanged words with an Air Force defender and a flag flew from the back of the end zone, much to the chagrin of the Mids.
“I didn’t see it, but it’s a tough call to make in a situation like that,” Niumatalolo said. “I didn’t see it, but you would hope that a referee would know if something was going on in that situation ‘Settle down, guys.’ It’s too critical a part of the game just to make a call like that. Both teams are fighting hard. They’re battling hard. For someone to make a call like that, it hurts.”
In an instant, the tenor changed. The refreshed Air Force offense, which moved so effectively all day, would do so again. Jefferson rolled in from a yard out on the Falcons’ fourth play in overtime. Parker Herrington’s extra point sailed through with ease. Air Force stormed the field to celebrate its first win in Annapolis since 1997 (it also won at FedEx Field in 1999 and 2001).
Navy’s shot at the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy was gone, with one play in particular to rue for some time.
“The emotions of the game, it shouldn’t come down to a ref’s call at the end of the game,” Teich said.
Whether it was the correct call or not, it loomed large —- and it most assuredly left Navy with a special form of misery to ponder until next year’s encounter with the Falcons.
—- Patrick Stevens