A record-setting 52-yard field goal by Army's Kurt Heiss was probably the final kick in the gut for Navy football coach George Chaump.For the third straight year, the Army-Navy football game was decided by a kick. And the Cadets made it three in a row on a balmy fall afternoon at Veterans Stadium when Heiss, a senior from San Antonio, kicked his field goal with room to spare with 6:19 left to win it, 22-20.
At least this time, it did not come down to the agonizing final seconds as in the previous two meetings.
In 1992, Army won on a 49-yard field goal by Patmon Malcom with 12 seconds left. Last year, Navy plebe Ryan Bucchianeri missed an 18-yard field-goal try with six seconds left.
"When I first kicked it, I thought I got under it too much," said Heiss, who eclipsed the Army-Navy field-goal record of 50 yards set by the Midshipmen's Steve Fehr in 1980.
"I knew I had to make the best of my chances because I didn't know if I'd get another shot. But I was making 50-yarders fairly regular in practice last week. This was the greatest feeling for me since the day I was accepted at West Point. It's a great way to finish."
It was just the opposite for Chaump, whose face clearly showed the emotional weight of three straight losses to Army by a total of five points.
Chaump is 14-41 in his five seasons at Annapolis. His dismissal could come as early as today, sources said, and Virginia offensive coordinator Tom O'Brien is considered the leading candidate to replace him.
"Our effort was great, but Army stopped us when they had to," said Chaump, almost in a whisper. "And they did a great job of keeping the ball and controlling the clock in the end. We couldn't stop them. Give them the credit."
With Army coach Bob Sutton alternating sophomore Ronnie McAda and senior Mike Makovec at quarterback, the Cadets' wishbone crunched out 373 yards on the ground. Fullback Joe Ross (120 yards) and halfback Kevin Vaughn (92 yards) took turns punishing the defense, killing any chance of a Navy comeback by controlling the ball for the final 4:42 after having forced Navy to punt on the possession following the field goal.
"I didn't think the game could end without us having another chance to score until we ran out of timeouts in the final minute," said Navy senior quarterback Jim Kubiak. "When you walk through the tunnel here for the last time after losing like that, you don't think you can stop crying. It leaves you speechless."
In his farewell appearance for the Midshipmen, Kubiak completed 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. But he was also intercepted three times.
The last one proved critical.
Navy (3-8) appeared ready to take control in the third quarter after senior tight end Kevin Hickman, following a series of devastating blocks, turned a screen pass into a spectacular 56-yard touchdown jaunt down the left sideline.
Despite getting two chances, Navy botched a two-point conversion when tailback Pat McGrew was stopped a yard short, leaving the Mids up, 20-19. That play would come back to haunt them.
After forcing Army to punt on its next possession, Kubiak used a 48-yard pass to Matt Scornavacchi to move his team to the Cadets' 15. But two plays later, Army safety Derek Klein stepped front of senior wide-out Damon Dixon to intercept a pass on the 2-yard line.
The Midshipmen could not get closer than Army's 32 the rest of the game. The Cadets, who finished the season 4-7, now lead the series 45-43-7.
The near-capacity crowd of 65,308 saw the game start on a jarringly familiar note when Bucchianeri's 37-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right. The miss ended a long drive that was sparked by Kubiak's 32-yard toss to senior tailback Mike Jefferson on the first play from scrimmage.
But that was just the start of a series of eye-catching first-quarter plays by both sides.
A 43-yard run by Ross set up the first of Heiss' three field goals, this one from 21 yards to give Army a 3-0 lead.
Kubiak then drove Navy 81 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. A 49-yard pass to Scornavacchi ignited the drive, which was climaxed by a 27-yard toss to Dixon (nine receptions). Dixon beat cornerback Garland Gay in the end zone.
Army answered with a 61-yard drive, one that was keyed by a busted play. McAda fumbled making a hand-off on the Navy 42. He recovered to find a huge hole up the middle and rumbled 37 yards to the 5. Two plays later, Ross crashed over from the 1 and Army led 10-7 after Heiss added the extra point.
But the Navy cheering section erupted moments later when Jefferson, who seemed to be under-used all season, took a handoff on the Navy 27 and streaked untouched down the left sideline. Jefferson had gained only 90 yards in 10 previous games.
"Watching us come this close for three straight years, it leaves me with a terrible pain," said Jefferson. "But we stopped ourselves in the end more than they stopped us. And that guy [Heiss] kicked the ball with all his heart."
The Navy offense anguished on the sidelines as Heiss made his record-setting kick with room to spare. But the Midshipmen said it was even worse to watch the Cadets run out the clock.
"I'm a control freak," said Hickman, who set a Navy career record for tight ends with 107 receptions for 1,178 yards. "You like to be able to control your own destiny. But they took this out of our hands."