December 31, 2004
There are drives, there are long drives and there are really long drives.
And then there's what Navy put together in the Emerald Bowl on Thursday at AT&T Park.
It wasn't quite a circumnavigation of the globe, but it was close, and it defined the Midshipmen's 34-19 win over beleaguered New Mexico.
The Midshipmen embarked, stowed their bags, waved goodbye to loved ones and set off on an epic journey in this third annual game.
From its 1-yard line with 1:41 left in the third quarter following a rousing goal-line stand, to the New Mexico 5-yard line with 2:15 left in the fourth, Navy took 26 plays to go 94 yards and used up a staggering 14 minutes, 26 seconds -- all for a lousy 22-yard field goal.
"It's unheard of,'' said Navy quarterback Aaron Polanco, the game's offensive most valuable player and a slippery little devil who rushed for 136 yards and three touchdowns, completed three passes for 101 yards and a score and even caught two passes to lead his run-centric team in that category. "I've never seen a 14 1/2-minute drive before. I doubt that I'll see it again. ''
The drive, in dribs and drabs and averaging a modest 3.6 yards per play, confounded and frustrated the Lobos, who finished their season at 7-5 with a third straight bowl defeat.
"It was pretty frustrating sitting there watching the game tick by, getting stiff, getting cold,'' New Mexico quarterback Kole McKamey said. "I was pretty amazed. I've never heard of that before. I've never seen that before.''
Looking dumbfounded and almost bemused in an interview room afterward, Lobos coach Rocky Long said of the drive: "The strange thing about that is we weren't playing bad defense. I've never seen a 14-minute drive. They didn't even score a touchdown after 14 minutes. That's even more unusual.''
The field goal, by Geoff Blumenfeld, nevertheless sealed the deal for Navy on a soggy afternoon. Navy (10-2) finished the season with 10 wins for the first time since 1905.
"I couldn't be happier for our team,'' Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "They'll go down in the annals as one of the very special teams. I am so happy for these players. They've seen the bottom of the barrel (1-10 in 2000, 0-10 in 2001) and now they've had success.''
It just wasn't New Mexico's day. From the start, the Lobos were outnumbered in fan support by at least 15,000 partisans and 1,500 more in the Brigade of Midshipmen who marched onto the field before the game in a symbolic show of strength.
Then, with 3:52 left in the opening quarter, New Mexico sustained a blow when its best player, tailback DonTrell Moore, was injured on an option pitch. Navy cornerback Vaughn Kelley read run support all the way and slammed into Moore low with his shoulder pads and helmet and caused a fumble that his Midshipman teammate, linebacker Lane Jackson, recovered.
Moore was carried off the field by teammates and then carted off with what was later termed by Long to be a "severe knee injury that will require surgery.''
"When you lose a player like DonTrell to injury, it depresses your team for a little while,'' Long said. "It didn't change our game plan at all.''
However, Long did allow that "if DonTrell had been in there, there would have been big plays.''
With Moore, New Mexico scored first and took a 7-0 lead. Navy tied the score on a Polanco touchdown run and then moved ahead 14-7 and 21-7 before the Lobos rallied with a touchdown run by backup running back Rodney Ferguson to cut the lead to 21-13.
A Blumenfeld field goal and a McKamey touchdown run for New Mexico made for a 24-19 halftime lead by Navy. Polanco's third touchdown run in the third quarter and the field goal to cap the 14-minute drive in the fourth finished off the scoring for victorious Navy.
Key to Navy keeping the 94-yard drive alive was a throwback pass from slotback Frank Divis to Polanco on 4th-and-3 at the Lobos' 28-yard line. Like all plays on the drive, it was a modest gain -- 6 yards -- but it enabled the Midshipmen to eat up the clock like starving trenchermen.
"I couldn't have done anything without these guys,'' Polanco said of his teammates. "It looks like it's (my) last one. It's starting to sink in a little bit. It's the last time we'll all be together.''
At least they made the experience a lasting one.