- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The scene was surreal last night at Rutgers Stadium.

At one end of the field, a somber group of Navy players and members of the Brigade softly sang the school alma mater. About 60 yards away, a throng of Rutgers students who helped constitute the second-largest crowd in stadium history bounced up and down in unison with the Scarlet Knights players in a boisterous celebration of the team’s bowl eligibility.

Rutgers took advantage of great field position in the first half, and a pair of critical replay reviews went its way in the second as the Scarlet Knights defeated Navy 31-21 in front of 41,716 fans.

“[The crowd was] awesome today,” junior running back Brian Leonard said. “The student section is our 12th man, and seeing them rush the field and support us like that — it’s why I came here.”

With the Midshipmen (4-3) trailing by a touchdown late in the third quarter, linebacker David Mahoney tracked down Rutgers tailback Ray Rice from behind and stripped the ball, which Navy recovered.

Before the Mids could run an offensive play, replay official Charles Phillips decided the fumble deserved a closer look. The ruling on the field was overturned, and the ball went back to the Scarlet Knights (6-2) at the Navy 13-yard line. Rutgers finished the drive with an 18-yard field goal for a 24-14 advantage.

“I think [the reversal] had a big impact on the game,” Mahoney said. “We lost by more than [three points], so you can’t say we lost it because of that, but still the momentum difference — we could have had the momentum and the offense would have had the ball, but it didn’t go our way.”

After the Mids cut the lead to three in the fourth quarter, Rutgers drove toward another score when quarterback Ryan Hart fired a pass down the right sideline toward Leonard. Navy linebacker Tyler Tidwell knocked the ball into the air, and both Leonard and linebacker Jake Biles came down near the ball in the front right corner of the end zone.

The play was ruled an incomplete pass despite Biles’ lobbying that it was an interception. Phillips reviewed the play, and agreed with the on-field official’s ruling.

“I felt like I had the ball,” Biles said. “It got juggled around. It’s hard to tell what angle they had upstairs, but the ball where I was — I had it in my hands.”

Instant replay is not available at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and these were the first two plays reviewed in Navy program history.

“That’s the state of college football today,” Biles said. “We’ve got to be able to come back and make plays after that. … It’s a momentum swing, and you’ve got to overcome it.”

The Midshipmen’s offensive members had no one to blame but themselves in the first half. They put the defense at a severe disadvantage three times, and each time the Scarlet Knights capitalized.

A Lamar Owens interception, a sack that nearly resulted in a safety — and did result in a 32-yard punt — and a Trey Hines fumble gave Rutgers the ball at the Navy 30-, 32- and 30-yard line. Each time the Scarlet Knights scored a touchdown, and they held a 21-7 lead at halftime.

“Turnovers and mistakes really cost us this game,” said freshman slotback Karlos Whittaker, who scored a touchdown for the sixth straight game. “We can’t always rely on our defense.”

Owens was 9-for-20 for 124 yards and a touchdown, but he threw a pair of interceptions, including one that sealed the game with 1:32 left. He officially ran for 42 yards on 24 carries — but a fierce Rutgers pass rush forced him to lose 48.

Slotback Reggie Campbell had a 60-yard touchdown run that included a great downfield block by backup wideout O.J. Washington, and reserve defensive end Andrew Tattersall had three sacks for the Mids.

Hart was 18-for-21 with 221 yards, while Leonard and Rice had two rushing touchdowns each. The Scarlet Knights are bowl eligible for the first time since 1992 and likely will play in a postseason game for the first time since the 1978 Garden State Bowl.

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