"Pitiful" Penalty Proves Costly in OT

I've watched the replay a dozen times. Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor definitely nudged one Air Force defender and had words with another after the Mids took their only lead of the game in overtime. Did he do enough to warrant a crucial 15-yard penalty? Probably not. Was it the only reason Navy lost? Definitely not.

I had hoped for a blowout and for three quarters, I got my wish. Of course I wanted Navy to be the team leading 28-10 going into the fourth quarter, but nevertheless it was nice to not have to be sweating at the end of another Air Force-Navy game.

But this is Air Force and Navy – and no matter what happens, these two teams for some reason only like playing close games. On this particular Saturday, before more than 37,000 fans in Annapolis, it was the Falcons who had trouble closing the deal.

For three quarters, Navy was outplayed, outmatched, and outcoached by an Air Force team that took it to the Mids in every facet of the game. When they had the ball, they drove it down the field at will. When Navy was on offense, the Falcons seemingly took away the Mids' entire perimeter running game. And on special teams, Navy was just awful.

Navy's 35-34 loss to Air Force was filled with so many mistakes by the Mids in the first three quarters, I'm not sure where to begin – so I'll just start at the top. On just the fourth play of the game, Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson hit Ty MacArthur for a 52-yard touchdown which should have just been a long completion if not for a missed tackle by the usually reliable Kwesi Mitchell.

Further evidence that it was going to be a long day for the Mids came on the ensuing kick-off which the Falcons booted short and then Navy's Jordan Drake booted it himself. The Mids John Howell recovered the fumble, but it seemed as if his team never would.

After a six and out by the Navy offense, Air Force got the ball again and went to work carving what seemed to be a completely lost and unfocussed Navy defense. Led by Jefferson's poise and his two-yard TD scamper, the Falcons marched 80 yards in 13 plays to take a 14-0 lead.

Navy would score on its next drive (albeit a field goal), but it had become apparent that Air Force had taken away the outside part of their attack. The first quarter had come and gone and not one Navy slot back had touched the ball. In fact, Navy would run 10 more plays before Darius Staten became the first slot back to carry the ball with 6:30 to play in the first half. By that time, Air Force had an 18-point lead courtesy of another missed tackle by Navy's secondary. As to why Navy's slots involved more, Coach Niumatalolo said after the game that Air Force had split their ends wide on the defensive line, which forced the Mids to call a lot of plays inside the tackles.

But their lack of an outside running game wasn't the only glaring issue for Navy. Six carries after Staten touched the ball, Navy stalled in the red zone once again. And that's when Jon Teague missed a 26-yard field goal. Of course that miss would loom large as the Mids would eventually make a comeback.

However before I get to the comeback, there were a few other mistakes that were just as costly as the disputable penalty in overtime…and some of them won't show up in the statistics.

For instance, just before halftime, Navy's defense forced Air Force into a three-and-out. Faced with a fourth and 14 from their own 16-yard line and the wind at their back, Air Force got ready to punt to an awaiting Gary Myers. The only problem, and a lot of people saw this from the press box, was that Myers was standing way too close to the line of scrimmage…around the 45 yard line of Air Force. Navy coaches tried frantically to get Myers to back-up, but alas, before he could, the Falcons boomed the kick over his head. Instead of getting the ball around their own 40 yard line, the Mids got the ball at their own 19 with 1:29 left in the half.

Another unfortunate mistake in special teams that won't show up in the statistics came after Navy had closed the contest to 28-17. Facing a fourth and three from Navy's 49 yard line, Air Force lined up as if they were going to go for it. However instead of settling in under center, Jefferson went into a very deep shotgun in what looked like an obvious pooch-punt formation. For some reason Navy decided to not drop anyone back deep in formation which allowed Jefferson to get off a 42-yard punt. The Mids would eventually kick a field goal on the drive, but starting at their own seven yard line and eating up five minutes of clock wasn't ideal.

Even with all of these mental errors, Navy showed amazing resilience – even making up for some of their special teams blunders with the on-sides kick which led to the game tying score.

Unfortunately what will be remembered most about this game – at least to most Navy fans – is how it ended. After losing the toss, the Mids got the ball first in overtime and quickly marched down the goal line. Facing a fourth and one, Proctor squeezed his way in the end zone, putting the Mids up 34-28. After picking himself up off the ground, he bumped an Air Force defender who was between him and the bench. However, before getting to the bench, he made a slight detour to another defender with whom he had a one-sided conversation with. It appears this is the chat which prompted the now infamous penalty.

The call moved the Mids back 15 yards, forcing Teague to attempt a 35-yard extra point from the same end of the field where he had earlier missed a chip shot. A low knuckler off of his foot was blocked and the rest is now in the history books.

After the game, Navy fullback Alex Teich, who incidentally had a heck of a game, called the penalty against Proctor "pitiful." Of course Teich meant that the referee's decision (and not his teammates' decision to engage in a chat with a defender instead of heading to the sideline) was "pitiful." And as a diehard Navy fan, of course I agree with him. But I can't help but wonder if the shoe was on the other foot and it was Jefferson who got in the grill of Jabaree Tuani in a similar situation. I probably would have agreed with the referee's call.

Either way, it was a pitiful end to a thrilling game.

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