- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Navy’s defense bailed out the offense last week in the first half. Yesterday it had to save the game in the second half.

The defense forced four turnovers and held on fourth down in the final series as the Midshipmen eked out a 28-24 victory against Division I-AA Northeastern before 25,115 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Navy (2-0) won its second straight to start a season that way for the first time since 1996. For the second straight week, though, the performance was far from flawless.

“We have a lot of work to do every week,” coach Paul Johnson said. “If you think we’re just going to show up and roll out the helmets and beat somebody, then you’re not paying attention.”

Quarterback Aaron Polanco rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns, but the Mids’ passing game was suspect. He completed only two of six passes — both to fullback Kyle Eckel — and threw a pair of interceptions.

“The [opponents] are only going to get better,” Polano said. “We can’t start off slow like this every week.”

Most of last week’s miscues came in enemy territory, which made it easier to stop Duke’s offense in a 27-12 victory. Navy’s gaffes in the first half yesterday were too close to its goal line for the defense to erase.

Polanco threw an interception on the first play, which Northeastern’s Richard Orah returned to the Navy 1. Orah, a Gaithersburg High School graduate, is starting because all-Atlantic 10 cornerback Jeremiah Mason was lost for the season with a torn ACL during preseason.

“We noticed they had a tendency to throw the ball on the first play,” Orah said. “Our coaches had us prepared.”

Polanco labeled the play a communication error and accepted responsibility, but Johnson said the senior quarterback made the correct throw. Wideout Jason Tomlinson kept running when the play called for a short hitch pattern.

Late in the first half, a punt by Northeastern (1-1) glanced off Byron McCoy’s helmet, and the Huskies recovered. Northeastern (1-1) was able to convert the turnover into a last-second field goal and a 17-14 halftime lead.

The Mids jumped to a 28-17 advantage after the half with two quick scoring drives, the second set in motion by Reggie Sealey’s interception.

Northeastern marched right back down the field to cut the lead to four, and the Huskies had four possessions in the final 18 minutes to score and pull off the upset.

Orah picked off Polanco again, but Huskies quarterback Shawn Brady returned the favor moments later. After that, the Mids also gave the ball back on a missed field goal by kicker Geoff Blumenfeld.

“We probably have the worst kicking game in the country right now,” said Johnson, who had expressed confidence in Blumenfeld after he missed a field goal and was tackled for no gain on a fake punt.

But the defense recovered a fumble, forced a punt and made a critical stop on fourth-and-4 with less than three minutes remaining.

“Overall, I didn’t think we played very well,” said defensive end Jeff Vanak, who recovered the fourth quarter fumble. “One good thing we did was get turnovers.”

The Mids rushed for 300 yards, but it was clear the Huskies defense keyed on Eckel. The fullback finished with a hard-earned 55 yards on 18 carries as Northeastern flooded the middle of the line to stop him.

That strategy opened running lanes for Polanco and the slotbacks on the outside. Both Trey Hines (47 yards) and Frank Divis (45) averaged more than 10 yards a touch on four carries.

• Louisville 52, Army 21 — Stefan LeFors threw for 270 yards and Michael Bush ran for two touchdowns to lead the Cardinals (2-0) and spoil the debut of Black Knights coach Bobby Ross in West Point, N.Y. Broderick Clark caught six passes for 122 yards as Louisville gained 574 yards.

• Air Force 42, Eastern Washington 20 — Freshman Shaun Carney threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another, and the Falcons (1-1) found the end zone on their first three possessions in a victory over the Eagles (0-2) in Colorado.

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