- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — First, Navy went without its starting quarterback. Then it lost its second inside linebacker in as many weeks.

Photo Gallery: Navy hosts Ball State

More importantly, it handed a victory to Ball State with its many miscues.

The Midshipmen lost two fumbles — one on the first play in overtime — and had two kicks blocked, including one at the end of regulation, as they dropped a 34-31 decision before 32,087 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“If we don’t turn the ball over, we have a chance to win the game,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “[Heck], if we can kick a 32-yard field goal, we have a chance to win the game. … We had two kicks blocked. It’s ridiculous.”

So too were the offensive fireworks put up by both teams. There were a combined 1,124 total yards, and Navy (1-2) rushed for 521 yards — the third-highest total in school history.

But that wasn’t enough to overcome several self-inflicted wounds.

The most obvious came in the night’s final stages. Navy methodically marched inside the 20 behind reserve quarterback Jarod Bryant, who played the second half after Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada suffered a pair of sprained ankles on the same play. Yet Matt Harmon’s 32-yard field goal was blocked by Brandon Crawford to preserve the 31-31 tie.

Bryant and the offense quickly returned to the field and frittered away Navy’s chances. Bryant fumbled while trying a delayed pitch on the first play of overtime, and Ball State (2-1) locked up the victory five plays later on Jake Hogue’s 24-yard field goal.

“I thought I felt good heading out there,” Bryant said. “It was a situation I dreamed about since I was a little boy, coming in off the bench and leading the team to a win.”

Instead, Navy was left to ponder an early two-game losing streak pocked with plenty of concerns. There was a short-handed defense that was shredded in the first half and wound up yielding 539 yards, in the process losing inside linebacker Irv Spencer to a sprained left ankle early in the third quarter.

It was the third injury to a defensive starter in two weeks. Senior safety Jeff Deliz (right leg) and junior Clint Sovie (left ankle) both suffered season-ending injuries in a loss at Rutgers last week.

There were also the offensive foibles, including a red zone fumble in the third quarter as well as Bryant’s miscue.

“We gave ourselves a chance if we could hold on to the dang ball,” Johnson said. “The fumble in the third quarter where we have a chance to go ahead seven, it killed us. It’s unforced. It’s just not doing fundamental football.”

Kaheaku-Enhada, the starter since the middle of last season, ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. But it was Bryant, who entered to begin the third quarter, and backup fullback Eric Kettani who ensured the Mids rallied to have a chance to win.

Bryant looked comfortable running Navy’s offense, rushing for 77 yards on 13 carries before his ill-fated overtime fumble.

“He made some plays, and he made some mistakes,” Johnson said. “The last one was huge.”

Kettani, meanwhile, ran for 126 yards on nine attempts — including touchdown jaunts of 24 and 71 — as the Mids built a 31-24 lead with 7:17 left. But Ball State quickly responded with a nine-play drive that culminated with Nate Davis’ 12-yard touchdown pass to MiQuale Lewis with 3:53 left.

Then came the potential winning drive. The Mids wound the clock down, and three timeouts were called before Harmon’s line drive was batted down. He also had a 48-yard attempt blocked at the end of the first half as Ball State maintained a 21-14 lead.

“It was tough seeing that kick blocked, but we were ready to go back out,” Bryant said of the game-winning attempt. “We were going to go out and score. If I had got that thing out we would have scored on that play.”

That didn’t happen, leaving the Mids with plenty of questions. The defensive struggles and offensive generosity proved frustrating to Johnson, who dryly responded to a question about his opinion of how good the Mids are after three games.

“I don’t know. What’s yours?” Johnson said. “We’re 1-2. You are what you are.”

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