- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Last week, mistakes by Navy’s defense and special teams cost the Midshipmen a victory. Yesterday proved to be a complete role reversal.

Behind an interception by safety Ketric Buffin and a 44-yard field goal by Joey Bullen as time expired, the Mids rallied from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to upend Duke 46-43 yesterday in front of 31,278 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“Let me say how proud I am of our football team,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “I told them it was going to be a hard-fought street fight and things went about as poorly as they could go in the first half … We found ways to come back, and we hung around.”

Buffin’s interception — his fourth in as many games this season — came with the game tied 43-43 and less than a minute to go. On a third and 21, Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis lofted a long pass down the sideline, only to watch Buffin cut in front of his intended receiver and come down with the ball.

“I had been waiting for that all game,” Buffin said. “I missed an opportunity a couple times in the first half, and I’m just thankful.”

Johnson rotated players frequently throughout the day because of the humid conditions that caused fatigue more quickly. His reserves’ play was crucial as Navy (2-2) made its comeback.

Backup quarterback Jarod Bryant looked good running Navy’s option offense for the second week in a row. Last week, he took over after starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada sprained both his ankles in the first half. Yesterday, Bryant replaced a fatigued Kaheaku-Enhada on Navy’s first possession of the fourth quarter.

“In a game like that when they were tired, we were tired too, Johnson said. “When you put in a guy who is fresh he can make some plays. Kaipo did nothing wrong. He moved the offense. Jarod just gave us a kick.”

Against Ball State, Bryant’s fumble in overtime led to the Cardinals’ game-winning field goal. Yesterday, he engineered three scoring drives, including one to tie the game, and one that led to Bullen’s game-winning kick.

“Not many times do you get a chance to redeem yourself,” Bryant said. “We went out there and didn’t give up. It would have been easy for everybody to give up. We were down 11 points in the fourth quarter and we kept playing and kept plugging and we came out on top.”

It took some deception out of Johnson’s playbook to tie the game. Down 43-35 with just less than four minutes to play, Bryant pitched the ball to reserve slotback Bobby Doyle, who was playing because starter Shun White sprained his ankle on the Mids’ second possession of the game. Doyle — recruited to the academy as a quarterback — stopped in the backfield and threw a perfect 5-yard touchdown pass to Bryant, who then took a keeper into the end zone for the two-point conversion to tie the game.

“It was a great throw by Bobby,” Bryant said. “He put it right on the money.”

It was a tale of two halves for the Mids’ defense. In the first half, it appeared helpless as Lewis and Duke’s offense scored with ease. Lewis threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns and also added a 3-yard touchdown run.

The Mids’ defense played most of the second half with six defensive backs to counter Duke’s spread offense. At first, it appeared to be a futile plan. Young connected with receiver Eron Riley for their fourth touchdown of the day on the Blue Devils’ second play of the half.

The game seemed on the verge of a blowout, but the Mids’ defense would not yield another point the rest of the way. On the Blue Devils’ remaining drives, the Mids defense forced a fumble, a missed field goal, a punt and Buffin’s interception.

“I’m so proud of our defense,” Buffin said. “I know we have a lot more confidence. I think we grew up a lot today. We realize now what it takes to be a good defense.”

After having two kicks blocked last week, the Mids’ kicking game secured the victory in the closing moments. Bullen replaced starting kicker Matt Harmon, whose groin had tightened up. He hit a 35-yard field goal on Navy’s first possession of the fourth quarter before eventually nailing the game-winner.

Bullen also made a game-winning kick against Air Force as time expired in 2005.

“Joey came in and did a great job kicking the ball,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to give him credit. He’s a gamer. When the game is on the line, he produces. There are kids like that and he’s one of them. I’m sold.”

Buffin’s interception set up the game-winning drive. The Mids took over at their own 26, and Bryant quickly broke off runs of 35, 6 and 8 yards to set up Bullen’s heroics.

“The biggest thing that sticks out in my mind about this game is that our kids didn’t quit,” Johnson said. “They fought from start to finish and didn’t quit playing. If you do that, you’re always going to have a chance.”

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