- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio | In short stints off the bench last year, Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs showed a flair for fourth-quarter drama. He led the Midshipmen to a 20-point comeback victory against Temple and nearly brought them back from the same deficit a week later against Notre Dame.

Dobbs was at it again Saturday, just a two-point conversion away from drawing Navy even with No. 6 Ohio State. He dropped back to pass, and the 105,092 fans in attendance held their breath as he targeted slotback Bobby Doyle on a slant route.

But linebacker Brian Rolle intercepted Dobbs’ pass and took it 99 yards the other way for a score, dispelling Dobbs’ magic in a 31-27 win against 21-point underdog Navy at Ohio Stadium.

“Rolle just came out of nowhere,” Dobbs said. “I tried to throw it low to Bobby so the [safety] would have to come through his body, and it was just too low and he broke on it.”

The quick turn of events halted what had been a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Mids.

A Dan Herron 6-yard touchdown plunge put Ohio State up 29-14 with 11:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. But immediately thereafter, Ohio State committed a string of blunders that allowed the Mids to seize momentum, starting when Buckeyes kicker Aaron Pettrey missed the point-after try.

Ohio State drove to the Navy 15-yard line on its next possession. On third-and-1, the Mids’ defense stuffed Herron for no gain. And instead of opting to kick a field goal that would have put the Buckeyes up by three scores, coach Jim Tressel opted to go for it on fourth down.

But Navy’s defensive line collapsed the middle, leaving linebacker Tyler Simmons and cornerback Kevin Edwards free to swoop in and stop Herron again.

“You know, I probably let the emotion of wanting to score and wanting our offensive guys to knock a hole in it get the best of me,” Tressel said. “We didn’t put it to three scores, and that was a poor decision on my part.”

That’s because on the very next play, Dobbs lofted a deep pass to slotback Marcus Curry, who had a step on safety Anderson Russell and outran him and cornerback Andre Amos to the end zone for an 85-yard touchdown. In the span of 12 seconds, Navy was back within a possession at 29-21 with 6:15 left.

On the Buckeyes’ ensuing possession, a Terrelle Pryor overthrow landed in the hands of Mids safety Emmett Merchant. With the field spread out, Merchant returned the interception 38 yards to the Ohio State 33-yard line.

Three plays later, Dobbs scampered up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown.

“We were always talking like [we could come back],” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “If we could keep it to a two-touchdown score, we just felt like we had a chance. There are some things in our offense that we were maybe a block away from breaking a play, and we were just telling guys to hold the course.”

But that only set up Rolle’s game-changing play. It was a microcosm of the day for Navy, which rarely seemed overmatched against the national-title contenders but committed three turnovers before Rolle’s return.

In the second quarter, Dobbs fumbled with the Mids trailing by three. Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman stripped receiver Mario Washington after a completed pass, and on Navy’s next possession Dobbs underthrew a third-down pass that Buckeyes safety Kurt Coleman dived to snag. Then Rolle came up with an interception on the game’s most critical play.

“Turnovers killed us,” Niumatalolo said. “That was our number one goal going into camp: to take care of the football, especially against a great team like Ohio State. If you turn the ball over [three] times, you’re not going to beat anybody.”

Yet the Mids were still able to come dangerously close to a shocking upset and walked away regretting the missed opportunity.

“We were coming here to win,” Niumatalolo said. “We had one goal. We weren’t coming here to experience the atmosphere or any of that stuff. … Our kids are down. We’re a program that’s won some games over the last six years. We hate losing regardless of who we play.”

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