There must be a limit to the frustration and heartbreak of the Navy football program and its followers.
With an excellent game plan and team spirit and confidence at its highest level Saturday night, the Mids generally outplayed an improving Tulane team on its homecoming.
But fumbles, even on the first offensive play of the game, along with interceptions that killed scoring threats, nullified an otherwise superb Mids effort.
Defeat finally came with a 43-yard field goal as time ran out, 27-25.
Can Navy get up for tomorrow's game with traditional rival Air Force, beginning at 1:30 p.m.? It's another key game, the opportunity to move on to a winning season and a Liberty Bowl bid.
Down the road, however, is undefeated and nationally ranked Louisville and Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Southern Methodist and Army. Tomorrow's encounter shapes up as a must-win to salvage a successful season.
Playing in the Western Athletic Conference, Air Force opened with a win against Indiana State but since has lost to Colorado State, San Diego State, Brigham Young and Wyoming (last week, 31-18).
Falcons coach Fisher DeBerry has a 72-38-1 record in nine years at Colorado Springs. Winner of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy four straight years, other highlights during his tenure include defeating Notre Dame twice in eight tries, upsetting Texas and Ohio State, finishing third or better six times in the WAC, and winning the title in 1985.
After early predictions for another banner year, this does not appear to be one of Air Force's best teams, particularly with an obvious defensive weakness against the pass. Its offensive line returned only four starters, but a veteran backfield runs well out of the wishbone formation. At tight end is Joe Lombardi, grandson of the legendary NFL coach.
The starting quarterback spot appears to still be unsettled. Rarely using freshmen, DeBerry is looking long and hard at Ryan Smith, a wishbone specialist who was selected as one of the best 100 football players in Texas. He turned down Texas, Alabama and Baylor to attend Air Force.
However, sophomore Demond Cash has developed as the starter in recent games. A fine rushing quarterback in the wishbone attack, he has gained 368 yards on 65 carries, averaging 92.0 yards per game. Air Force has outstanding punter Chris MacInnis, who has averaged 49.1 yards on 24 punts.
As for the Midshipmen, coach George Chaump responded to the loss last week by stating he is certain the team will correct its mistakes, and that the Mids are still a good team. That brilliant comeback in the fourth period against Tulane, after giving up 17 points in the third, is indicative of their character.
Fumbles are a part of the game, however costly and irritating. But the blown assignments at critical moments in the game must be corrected. Quarterback Jim Kubiak must stop forcing his passes into a crowd, thus tempting interceptions. And, there can be no more missed extra points.
The Navy team has the talent to make it tough on anyone when all cylinders are working. With All-American linebacker Javier Zuluega leading what is becoming a hard-nosed defense, and runners Jason Van Matre and Brad Stramanak continuing to be serious offensive threats, it could be a wide-open, high-scoring game tomorrow.