- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — Representatives from the Motor City Bowl on hand yesterday to evaluate Navy as a potential invitee didn’t have to wait long to see what they’d be getting.

Coach Paul Johnson’s offense needed just 11 plays to score four first quarter touchdowns as the Midshipmen rolled to a 63-34 win over Central Michigan before 29,527 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Johnson’s triple-option attack also continued to progress toward matching the quick strike offense that catapulted Georgia Southern to two Division I-AA national championships in 1999 and 2000.

“That’s a very good offense they’ve got,” Motor City Bowl scout and former NFL and college coach Hank Bullough said. “I’ve coached in Super Bowls and Rose Bowls, and anytime you’re good enough to lead the country in rushing, that’s pretty impressive.”

The win made the Mids (7-4) bowl eligible for the first time since 1997 but without a conference affiliation, a berth is not guaranteed. Their chances of going to the Motor City Bowl were hurt by Northwestern’s win over Illinois yesterday but the Silicon Valley, Houston and Tangerine Bowls remain potential postseason destinations.

With only winless Army remaining on the schedule, the Mids are on pace for their best season since 1996. That was also the last year Navy played in a bowl game — a 42-38 victory over California in the Aloha Bowl.

“I’ll tell you how far this team has come,” Johnson said. “I go into the locker room and I see long faces on some of the defenders. Guys expect to do more than just win now. But any way you slice it, 63 [points] is more than 34. We all won.”

The defense might have given up some easy points, but it also created two first-quarter turnovers that helped the Mids to an early lead. Senior quarterback Craig Candeto led the outburst with 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the opening quarter alone. Slotback Eric Roberts touched the ball twice in the quarter, once for a 45-yard touchdown run and again for an 86-yard touchdown pass (the second longest in school history).

Navy didn’t hesitate in its early scoring drives, using two single-play strikes and holding the ball for just 4:22 in the first quarter. For the game, the Mids had five scoring drives of under two minutes and five scoring plays of 30 yards or longer.

Much of Navy’s success came on options to the weak side out of an unbalanced set favoring the strong side. Central Michigan loaded defenders up on the line to the strong side only to watch the Mids cut back against the grain.

“The perimeter was there today,” Candeto said. “They were short on that side, and that’s just how the option works. If you slide a safety over, we’ll go the other way.

In his final home game, Candeto finished with 150 yards rushing, 114 yards passing and accounted for four touchdowns — three rushing and one passing. He also moved to eighth on Navy’s career rushing list with 1,801 yards, a yard out of seventh place. Fullback Kyle Eckel scored two touchdowns, and his 167 yards on the ground put him over 1,000 for the season.

“We achieved some goals today,” Johnson said. “We got the winning season and we’re bowl eligible. But we’ve got the biggest goal remaining in two weeks [the Army-Navy game]. We need that one to finish another goal, [winning] the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy.”

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