Af­ter day of big to­tals on ground, Mids top Fal­cons through the air

NAVY 48, AIR FORCE 45

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY AVA WAL­LACE

When Navy quar­ter­back Zach Abey zipped one fi­nal, fran­tic, 16-yard pass for the last touch­down in the high­est scor­ing game of the his­toric Navy-Air Force ri­valry, the fren­zied crowd at Navy-Marine Corps Me­mo­rial could, at last, ex­hale. The 48-45 vic­tory, which had seemed a fore­gone con­clu­sion with Navy up three touch­downs in the third quar­ter, re­quired ev­ery bit of hero­ics Abey and wide re­ceiver Tyler Car­mona could muster on Navy’s fi­nal of­fen­sive snap with 15 sec­onds re­main­ing.

And it was a vic­tory that be­longed en­tirely to the of­fense, built on co­or­di­na­tor Ivin Jasper’s game plan, one year af­ter he took the blame for Navy’s loss to the Fal­cons.

To top it off, Jasper’s 14-yearold son, Jar­ren, was in at­tendS­ta­dium ance for the first time all sea­son. The teenager is await­ing a heart trans­plant and came home Thurs­day af­ter spend­ing two months at Chil­dren’s Na­tional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton be­cause of com­pli­ca­tions from a surgery in Au­gust.

Navy Coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo cried as he praised Jasper, his long­time friend, af­ter the game.

“I’ll tell you what, he and the whole of­fen­sive staff came up with a mas­ter­piece to­day — I don’t know how he did it,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said, paus­ing to clear his throat. “Some morn­ings I come in, and he’s just pulling in from the hos­pi­tal, wear­ing the same clothes from the pre­vi­ous day. It’s hard enough to be a Divi­sion I foot­ball coach, but to go di­rectly to the hos­pi­tal right af­ter work and come in the morn­ing and start early again the next day — I have no idea how he did it. But he and the of­fen­sive staff came up with a great, great mas­ter­piece.”

“It was the end to a great week­end,” Jasper said, “for my­self and our family. I’m just truly, truly happy.”

Satur­day’s game gave Navy a win in the first leg of com­pe­ti­tion for the Com­man­der-in-Chief’s Tro­phy and im­proved the Mid­ship­men to 5-0 for the first time since 2004. Abey’s game-win­ning drive in­spired the mid­ship­men in the stands among the record crowd of 38,792 to rush the field.

The game fea­tured 1,178 yards of of­fense — 811 on the ground — and a Fal­cons rally from a 38-17 deficit more than half­way through the third quar­ter to take a 45-41 lead with less than two min­utes re­main­ing.

But Abey was not done. He had 214 of Navy’s 471 rush­ing yards, the most the Mids have amassed in series his­tory, a year af­ter the run­ning game wilted in Colorado Springs. The Mid­ship­men were held to 57 rush­ing yards in last year’s 28-14 loss, which helped the Fal­cons wrest away the Com­man­der-in-Chief’s Tro­phy.

“The goal wasn’t to beat Air Force; this was just the first step,” line­backer D.J. Pal­more said of the tro­phy.

Abey also had two touch­downs on his 29 car­ries. It was his sec­ond 200-yard rush­ing game of the sea­son, ty­ing him with sev­eral for­mer quar­ter­backs, in­clud­ing Keenan Reynolds, for the school record.

The ju­nior also was 4-of-11 pass­ing for 86 yards and two touch­downs. But the game-win­ning drive, which cov­ered 75 yards in 98 sec­onds, was book­ended by his arm: In ad­di­tion to the touch­down pass, Abey con­verted fourth and three from the Navy 32-yard line with a 25-yard com­ple­tion to Bran­don Colon.

“We don’t like to lose to other ser­vice acad­e­mies, and that was some­thing I was able to feel last year,” Abey said, re­fer­ring to last year’s loss to Army. “With Air Force, just be­ing back in the locker room, that’s some­thing we didn’t want to feel again, es­pe­cially be­ing in our own sta­dium. . . . I don’t think we had any doubt we were go­ing to win it.”

Slot­back Mal­colm Perry played a big part in Navy’s con­fi­dence from the start. Abey’s 40-yard scor­ing pass to Perry gave the Mid­ship­men a 28-7 lead with less than two min­utes to play in the first half, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on an Air Force fum­ble that Pal­more re­cov­ered and ran to the Fal­cons’ 40. It was Perry’s first ca­reer touch­down re­cep­tion — he spent last year play­ing quar­ter­back — and it capped a re­mark­able first half for the sopho­more. Perry opened the scor­ing with 91-yard touch­down run on a Navy’s sec­ond pos­ses­sion of the day. That tied Pat McGrew, in a 1997 game against Kent State, for the sec­ond-long­est run in school his­tory, com­ing up two yards short of a 93-yard dash by John Sai in 1963.

He fin­ished the game with 172 yards from scrim­mage — 127 rush­ing and 45 re­ceiv­ing — on four car­ries and two re­cep­tions.

“We just got to be care­ful that we don’t wear his legs off,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “Who do we want to give the ball to? Ev­ery­one says, ‘Mal­colm, Mal­colm, Mal­colm.’ He’s done phe­nom­e­nal.”

The of­fense, rol­lick­ing as it was, made up for a sub­par sec­ond half from Navy’s de­fense.

Air Force (1-4) had 621 yards of of­fense, its most this sea­son. The Fal­cons scored five touch­downs in the sec­ond half; they took their first lead with 1:53 to play when quar­ter­back Arion Worth­man hit a wide-open Mar­cus Bennett for a 51-yard score that put Air Force up 45-41.

Worth­man com­pleted 9 of 16 passes for 257 yards and two touch­downs to go with 139 yards rush­ing and two more touch­downs on 20 car­ries.

Jasper and his young son each took home a game ball af­ter the win.

“My son com­ing home on Thurs­day, a real big win this week­end . . .” Jasper said, trail­ing off.

“This couldn’t have been writ­ten any bet­ter.”

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Navy wide re­ceiver Tyler Car­mona beats Air Force de­fen­sive back Mar­quis Grif­fin for a win­ning 16-yard touch­down catch with 15 sec­onds left.

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