CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Navy senior cornerback Keenan Little said his heart dropped. Senior linebacker David Mahoney collapsed on the field in stunned disappointment. Senior linebacker Tyler Tidwell's pain extended far deeper than the severe back spasms he fought throughout the second half.
Three seconds. That was all that stood between Navy and the biggest prize of the season and of the five-year Paul Johnson era. And in three seconds, after the Midshipmen had stood tall against No. 23 Boston College by containing the most prolific offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference and hurting the Eagles with passes downfield and runs to the outside, the dream died with one kick.
Sophomore Steve Aponavicius kicked a career-long, 37-yard field goal as time expired in yesterday's Meineke Car Care Bowl --after a costly fumble by Navy junior slotback Reggie Campbell -- to lift Boston College to a come-from-behind, 25-24 victory before an announced crowd of 52,303 at Bank of America Stadium.
"That locker room was probably the most depressing place in the world," said Tidwell, who along with the rest of his senior class won 35 games and went to four straight bowl games. "It's heartbreaking. It's not how we imagined going out."
Navy was going for its third consecutive bowl victory and was on the verge of beating a ranked team in a postseason game for the first time in 49 years.
The nation's top-ranked rushing team surprised Boston College early by going to the air. Sophomore quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada threw for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to help the Mids (9-4) take a 21-16 halftime lead.
The Navy defense forced five punts, intercepted first-team All-ACC quarterback Matt Ryan twice, and never let Boston College get into a flow.
But in the end, the Mids did just enough wrong to lose, and the Eagles (10-3) righted themselves just enough to win their seventh straight bowl game. It all finally turned after Navy, having bogged down offensively in the second half, botched its final possession while trying to protect a 24-22 edge in the final two minutes.
First, a holding penalty against tackle Matt Pritchett negated a 6-yard run by sophomore slotback Shun White that might have given the Mids a first down and allowed them to run out the clock. On the next play, disaster struck. Campbell mishandled a pitch from Kaheaku-Enhada and Boston College linebacker Jolonn Dunbar recovered it at the Navy 40 with 1:44 left.
Boston College, which was out of timeouts, moved the ball 20 yards in five plays, the biggest of which was a 15-yard completion from Ryan to tight end Ryan Purvis to the 21. After two small gains and a spiked ball at the line stopped the clock with three seconds left, in trotted Aponavicius, a walk-on who had missed an extra-point attempt in the first quarter.
He calmly split the uprights, giving Boston College its first 10-win season since 1984.
"I just looked up and as soon as I kicked it, I knew it was good," Aponavicius said.
On the Navy sideline, the despondent Mids hung their heads, milled about, then headed toward the tunnel, where the Brigade of Midshipmen showered them with applause.
"It's definitely disappointing. There's no hiding that," said senior safety Jeremy McGown, whose first-quarter interception set up a 5-yard touchdown run by junior slotback Zerbin Singleton that gave the Mids a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter.
"I take responsibility for that," Campbell said. "We had it, but we couldn't afford those penalties, and [the ball] slipped out of my hands. I'm the one the team depends on in crunch time."
Said Johnson: "I wish I could have found one more thing to help them win the game. I'm disappointed for our football team and our seniors. But I'm awfully proud of the way they fought and played. We were outweighed pretty good, and I thought our guys really took the fight to them for most of the game."
Navy pulled out the stops early. First, the Mids opened with sophomore quarterback Jarod Bryant under center and Kaheaku-Enhada at receiver in a triple-stack formation. But on his first carry, senior fullback Matt Hall lost a fumble, and the Eagles drove 37 yards in six plays. Ryan, who was 20-for-30 for 242 yards, scored from 2 yards out. After the missed extra-point attempt, Boston College led 6-0.
Back came the Mids, this time with Kaheaku-Enhada at quarterback. While White (116 yards on seven carries) and Singleton (71 yards on six) established the running game on the perimeter, Kaheaku-Enhada finished an 88-yard drive with a 31-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Tyree Barnes. That gave the Mids a 7-6 lead.
A 1-yard plunge by fullback/linebacker Adam Toal cut the Navy lead to 14-13 with 10:12 to go in the first half, but Kaheaku-Enhada quickly answered with a 24-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jason Tomlinson.firstname.lastname@example.org
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A summary of Navy's 25-24 loss to Boston College in the Meineke Car Care Bowl:
What went right -- Navy mixed its offense effectively in the first half, producing 81 yards passing and 184 of its 322 rushing yards. That led to 21 points for the Mids.
What went wrong -- The Mids could barely generate any offense in the second half, during which they punted on four consecutive possessions and scored only a field goal.
Defining moment -- The normally dependable Reggie Campbell made the biggest mistake of his career. A year after tying a bowl record by scoring five touchdowns, Campbell lost a fumble that led to the Eagles' game-winning field goal.
What it means -- The senior class fell one victory shy of tying the school record for most wins by a class (36). And Johnson will have to wait until 2007 to get his 100th career victory.
[ Gary Lambrecht]