Navy pulls out OT victory over Air Force

The SportsXchange

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Offensive guard Jake Zuzek recovered a fumble in the end zone on the first possession of overtime as Navy pulled out a thrilling 28-21 victory over Air Force on Saturday in front of 38,927 at Falcon Stadium.

Defensive end Wes Henderson then knocked down a pass attempt on fourth down of the ensuing possession to seal it.

Navy got the ball first to begin overtime and covered the 25 yards in six plays. The Midshipmen were at the 1-yard line when quarterback Keenan Reynolds fumbled the snap from center. The ball squirted forward and Zuzek landed on it for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

"I just went on my assignment and when I was on the bottom of the pile I saw the ball right in front of me. I just grabbed it and wouldn't let go," Zuzek said. "I had no clue that (Reynolds) had fumbled the ball. I just saw it loose when I was on the bottom of the pile."

Air Force was unable to pick up a first down on its overtime possession with Navy linebacker Matt Warrick throwing running back Cody Getz for a 1-yard loss on third down. Facing fourth-and-6 from the 21-yard line, Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz attempted a pass into the flat that was batted down by Henderson -- prompting the visiting Midshipmen to storm the field in wild celebration.

"Pass-rushing against option teams is kind of the same so I'm sure I've made a play similar to that in practice," Henderson said. "I saw him release the ball and I just put my hand up. Luckily, I hit the ball and knocked it down."

Starting quarterback Trey Miller rushed for 110 yards on 18 carries before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Fullback Noah Copeland contributed 84 yards rushing for the Midshipmen (2-3), who snapped a two-game losing streak in the series.

"It was a hard-fought, well-played game. I couldn't be more proud of our guys. We just continued to battle," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "That was a tough game. They went ahead, we bounced back. This game shows that the United States Naval Academy is producing leaders and fighters and our country should be proud of them."

Getz rushed for 204 yards with a touchdown to lead Air Force, which outgained Navy 507-359 in offensive yards. Wide receiver Drew Coleman caught four passes for 106 yards with two touchdowns for the Falcons (2-3).

"It was a heck of a college football game. I thought that Navy made a couple more plays than we did," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "Got to tip your cap to them. The two things they did better was they held the ball better and they hit it a little better off the ground."

Calhoun was referring to the placekicking game as Navy freshman Nick Sloan made field goals of 39 and 41 yards while Air Force counterpart Parker Herrington missed field goal attempts of 27 and 51 yards.

"For a true freshman to come in here on the biggest stage against our rival and be able to make game-winning kicks like that ... all you can say is, 'wow!' " Niumatalolo said.

Coleman gave the Falcons a 21-13 lead with 9:03 remaining in the game when he got past the defense and hauled in a 54-yard pass from wide receiver Dontae Strickland, who had taken a pitch from Dietz.

However, Navy responded quickly as Reynolds directed a 75-yard touchdown drive that took just six plays and 2 1/2 minutes. Reynolds, a freshman, completed a 35-yard pass to slotback Gee Gee Greene to get the ball into Air Force territory. Reynolds then scored from 15 yards out on an option keeper.

Trailing by two with 6:35 remaining, Navy eschewed the extra point and went for two. Reynolds ran the double option to perfection by drawing a defender, then pitching to fullback Noah Copeland, who dove over the goal line to tie the score 21-21.

Reynolds, who had appeared in three previous games in a backup role, was forced into action after Miller suffered an ankle injury on the previous possession, which produced a 41-yard field goal by Nick Sloan that pulled Navy within 14-13.

Air Force reached midfield on its final possession of regulation before being forced to punt. Navy took over possession at its own 14-yard line with 1:40 to go, but was content to play for overtime -- calling three straight running plays before punting.

That strategy gave Air Force another chance and the home team moved the ball far enough into Navy territory to set up a 51-yard field goal attempt by Parker Herrington with five seconds left. The Midshipmen called two timeouts to ice Herrington, whose kick was wide left and sent the game into overtime. Herrington is one for six on field goals this season.

Notes: It marked the third time in four seasons the Air Force-Navy game went to overtime. Nine of the last 10 meetings between the teams have been decided by eight points or less. ... Getz became the first player in Air Force history to have three 200-yard rushing games in the season. The 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior previously gained 218 yards versus Idaho State and 222 yards against Colorado State. ... Navy starting safety Chris Ferguson left the game in the fourth quarter with a dislocated elbow. ... Navy completed all six passes it attempted with Reynolds going three for three for 55 yards and Miller going three for three for 19 yards. ... Air Force lost three fumbles on Saturday, matching the number of fumbles it lost in four previous games this season.
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