Collegiate News >> SportsTimely TD, Botched Boot Sink Blue Devils in Week 1

ROBERT SAMUEL
(Duke Chronicle)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Momentum plays a key role in every
football game. Whichever team best utilizes momentum swings almost
always wins.

Against a squad like Navy, such shifts become even more
important. The Midshipmen pound the ball on the ground with their
confusing triple-option offense. The attack eats away the clock,
leaving few opportunities for opponents to maintain rhythm.
Unfortunately, the Blue Devils (0-1) lost ground on what proved to
be the two biggest momentum swings in their 27-12 loss to Navy
(1-0).

With a minute remaining in the first half, Duke had to be
content, though not ecstatic, with its performance. Despite
untimely penalties and red zone difficulties, the Blue Devils held
the most productive rushing offense in the country in 2003 to just
90 yards and led Navy 6-0.

As the Midshipmen lined up on their own 42, the Blue Devils
hoped to keep Navy out of field goal range. But the Midshipmen
quickly put six points on the scoreboard when quarterback Aaron
Polanco found Jason Tomlinson streaking down the field for a
wide-open, 58-yard touchdown with 57 seconds remaining. After
preparing for the Midshipmen’s triple-option running game and
accounting for Polanco’s weak arm, it appeared as if Duke
cornerback John Talley guessed that Tomlinson would not receive the
ball more than 15 yards down the field and stopped following the
6-foot-2 Tomlinson.

Although Navy missed the extra-point attempt, the Blue Devils
were frustrated when three forced turnovers only resulted in a
halftime tie. During the first half, Duke also thwarted a fake punt
attempt that Navy head coach Paul Johnson considered an additional
turnover.

“We outplayed them and we’re tied at 6-6,”
running back Cedric Dargan said. “If you get three turnovers
in a half, you should go into halftime ahead by a couple of
touchdowns.”

The Blue Devils very easily could have built off the confidence
of a first-half shutout, but the momentum shifted to the Midshipmen
when Tomlinson crossed the goal line at the end of the second
quarter.

The Midshipmen broke the stalemate when Polanco faked a handoff
to preseason All-American fullback Kyle Eckel and raced to the
endzone for a 28-yard touchdown run that, after a successful extra
point, gave Navy a 13-6 lead.

Showing resilience rarely seen in the Carl Franks era,
second-string quarterback and co-captain Chris Dapolito led the
Blue Devils down the field to score the only Duke touchdown of the
game. Dapolito had 55 of the team’s 80 yards on the series,
including 44 rushing yards that culminated with a five-yard dash
into the endzone. But just as the come-from-behind optimism
returned for Duke, Matt Brooks missed the extra-point attempt.
Instead of tying the game, the efficient Midshipmen still held the
lead.

“We put together a nice drive, and to there credit they
answered,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a huge
momentum swing when they missed the extra point.”

After Dapolito’s touchdown, the Blue Devils did not muster
another first down while Navy’s game on the ground seemed to
strengthen by the possession. The Midshipmen ran for 211
second-half yards with Polanco (130) and Eckel (100) finishing over
the century mark for yards on the ground.

Navy often finds most of its success on the ground early in
games, as the triple option confuses many defenses. Duke, however,
came prepared for the perplexing patterns and neutralized much of
the Midshipmen’s early effectiveness. Duke head coach Ted
Roof explained that the Blue Devils simply wore down against the
experienced and disciplined attack.

“I think [Navy] guys ran through a lot of tackles. And I
think as you saw the defense on the field more in the second half
you saw the tackling decline,” Roof said.

In addition, Duke could not fully respond to the
Midshipmen’s running exploits because Dargan, who rumbled for
a career-high 114 yards, only rushed for 13 yards in the final two
quarters. Duke’s starting tailback suffered three minor leg
injuries, limiting his second-half effectiveness.

After the Blue Devils’ initial 53-yard drive that led to a
field goal in the first quarter, the passing game could also not
find its rhythm. Quarterbacks Mike Schneider and Dapolito made
little use of Duke’s much hyped tight end corps, and the
coaches called few long passing plays to complement the completions
to the flats in the first quarter.

“We didn’t get the ball thrown over our
heads,” Johnson said.

The Blue Devils had two opportunities to put significant
pressure on Navy to win the game. First, Duke failed to complete
its first-half shut out by, all of things, unsuccessfully stopping
the Midshipmen’s long passing ability. Second, after a
come-from-behind touchdown, the Blue Devils missed an extra point
attempt that would have tied the game. After the emotional
touchdown, Duke lost much of its energy and was unable to marshal
another first down. Navy, on the other hand, capitalized on the
Blue Devils’ mistakes. The Midshipmen best utilized momentum
and won the game.

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