AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — Another wild overtime finish in the Navy-Air Force rivalry. Only, this time, the Midshipmen came out on top in their quest to regain the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Navy beat Air Force 28-21 on Saturday when right guard Jake Zuzek recovered freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ fumbled snap in the end zone.
“I had no clue he had fumbled the ball,” Zuzek said. “I just saw it when I was on the bottom of the pile. I wasn’t letting it go for anything.”
After the weird touchdown, defensive end Wes Henderson knocked down Connor Dietz’s pass on fourth-and-6 from the 21 to seal Navy’s win, a significant first step in the Midshipmen’s quest to regain the trophy that represents superiority among the three service academies.
“Last year was so painful to see the seniors go out like that. To win like this is really indescribable,” Henderson said. “It’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.”
Last year’s game also went to overtime in Annapolis, Md., with Air Force prevailing 35-34 thanks to a controversial call. Officials ruled a touchdown celebration by Navy went overboard, and penalized the Midshipmen for unsportsmanlike conduct. The long conversion attempt from 35 yards was blocked by Alex Means. Then, the Falcons scored, and Parker Herrington added the conversion to give Air Force the wild win.
Herrington had the chance to win it again this time, but his 51-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left as time expired in regulation. It was his second miss of the afternoon and fifth in six tries this season for the senior.
After starting the season with blowout losses to Notre Dame and Penn State and then getting shut out by San Jose State at home last week, Navy (2-3) needs only to beat Army on Dec. 8 to regain the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy that the Falcons (2-3) have had in their possession the last two years.
Dietz said he was confident the Falcons would match Navy’s touchdown in overtime because “we had only stopped ourselves the whole game.”
They had lost fumbles on three straight drives and blew a late eight-point lead in the second half with Navy’s starting quarterback sidelined with an ankle injury.
“This game never should have been this close,” Means said.
“It’s football, you never know,” Dietz said. “Obviously, I think we missed a lot of opportunities, I’ll say that. But, you have to give them credit. You let somebody hang around, it never ends up good.”
Cody Getz rushed for 204 yards and a score, becoming the first Air Force player to post three 200-yard games in one season. He is the second Mountain West Conference running back to do that, joining San Diego State’s Larry Ned (2001).
It wasn’t enough to keep the Midshipmen from celebrating wildly on Air Force’s field — and in the coaches’ box adjacent to the press box, where some salty language reverberated loudly after Henderson’s pass deflection sealed Navy’s wild win.
“Things have looked bleak, not just in this game, but in this year,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “But our guys just continue to fight.
“Last year, I thought our loss kind of put us in a tailspin. I’m hoping this is the reverse. I’m hoping this game will propel us to some good things the rest of the year.”
The 9:40 a.m. kickoff was the earliest in Falcon Stadium history, and the Falcons slumbered their way through much of the game, wasting opportunity after opportunity with fumbles and foibles aplenty.
Air Force scored on its first possession but didn’t get into the end zone again until Getz burst up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown that gave Air Force a 14-10 lead with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
Navy quarterback Trey Miller rushed for 110 yards before hurting his left ankle on a scramble on third-and-9 with just under 10 minutes remaining. He was helped off the field, and freshman Nick Sloan kicked a 41-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.
The Falcons struck back quickly, needing just two plays and 28 seconds to score when Dietz pitched to wide receiver Dontae Strickland, who pulled up and hit Drew Coleman in stride for a 54-yard strike that made it 21-13.
Reynolds replaced Miller at quarterback for Navy and capped a 75-yard drive with a 15-yard keeper for the score with 6:35 remaining. Then, Noah Copeland took the pitch and slipped Miles Fisher’s tackle in the backfield, diving just inside the left pylon for the 2-point conversion that tied it at 21.
Reynolds and Miller both completed each of their three passes, marking just the second perfect passing day in the program’s history.
Coleman caught four passes for 106 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown toss from Dietz four snaps into the game, with ice falling onto the field from the television camera zip lines, and ground fog rolling off the turf as it warmed.
Nothing else would come easy the rest of the half as the Falcons missed a chip-shot field goal, lost three straight fumbles, and then failed to take full advantage of the clock at the end of the second quarter. They finished with a healthy 261 yards of offense but a 10-7 halftime deficit.
Sloan kicked a 39-yard field goal, and Copeland’s first career touchdown, a 5-yard run, gave the Midshipmen a 10-7 lead. Copeland’s TD came after safety Tra’ves Bush scooped up Broam Hart’s fumble at the Navy 27.
Getz was stripped by linebacker Josh Tate at midfield with cornerback Quincy Adams recovering, and Ty MacArthur coughed up the ball at the Navy 14 with senior linebacker Keegan Wetzel smothering it for his first career fumble recovery.
“The two things they did better was they held the ball better and they hit it a little better off the ground,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)