- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Kyle Eckel had no explaination for his mistakes.

After rushing for 1,249 yards last season, Navy’s senior fullback fumbled the ball twice in the first half against Duke in the Midshipmen’s opener last night.

“I don’t know why the ball was coming out like that,” Eckel said. “It was crazy. It was like me versus Navy.”

But just temporarily. Eckel atoned for his miscues with a pair of second-half touchdowns as Navy defeated the Blue Devils 27-12 before 29,027 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.

Navy’s biggest adversary in the first half was itself. After Eckel fumbled on the Mids’ first two drives — including one at the Blue Devils’ goal line — quarterback Aaron Polanco also turned the ball over when his option pitch was deflected and recovered by Duke’s Phillip Alexander.

The Mids gave Duke great field position again on their fourth possession when a fake punt was stopped for no gain. But despite all the Navy miscues, the Blue Devils’ offense managed only a 6-0 lead.

“I thought our defense played very well,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “We didn’t give up the big plays. We missed some tackles and some assignments, but we didn’t get the ball thrown over our heads.”

Polanco, in only his second career start, rushed for 130 yards and passed for 129. He connected with sophomore wideout Jason Tomlinson on a 58-yard scoring strike to knot the game at 6-6 late in the first half and scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a 28-yard option scamper in the second half.

Navy, the nation’s top rushing team last season, finished with 301 yards on the ground. Eckel had 100 and moved into eighth place on the program’s all-time list.

“We were moving the ball the whole game,” Eckel said. “We should have been up 20-6 at halftime but we weren’t and it was all my fault. I apologized to all of my teammates. In the second half, I just tried to keep two hands on the ball every time.”

Cedric Dargan finished with 114 yards on 20 carries for Duke, but only three of them came after halftime. Dargan, who said he is battling three minor injuries on the same leg, didn’t play much in the second half.

Duke marched down the field on its first possession, but without Dargan the offense sputtered in the second half. Quarterbacks Mike Schneider and Chris Dapolito combined to complete 13 of their 20 passes, but none was for more than 15 yards.

“Oh, the passing game was in the plans — we just didn’t execute,” Duke coach Ted Roof said. “For us to win against a good football team, we have to take advantage of the opportunities that come our way.”

Coming in, the Mids had lost nine straight games to ACC opponents by an average of 27 points since 1996. Duke has not won consecutive contests against Division I-A foes since topping Army and Navy in 1997.

“[Two] years ago these guys beat us 48-17,” Johnson said. “I think it shows we’re making progress.”

No. 13 California 56, Air Force 14

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — J.J. Arrington ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns, and Aaron Rodgers threw for 208 yards and a touchdown to help California pull away from Air Force in the second half.

Air Force knocked off Cal the last time the Bears were ranked in 2002 and another upset appeared to be brewing when the Falcons were within seven points at halftime. But after struggling with Air Force’s triple option early, Cal figured out its assignments.

Air Force had 214 yards on its first three drives, but just 12 on its next four. The Falcons finished with 271 total yards — 56 in the second half — and weren’t much better on defense, giving up the most points on opening day in school history.

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