ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — For all its misdeeds in a very meaningful game, Navy found a way to come away with an emotional victory in thrilling fashion.
Zach Abey threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Carmona with 15 seconds left, and the unbeaten Midshipmen defeated Air Force 48-45 Saturday after blowing a 21-point lead in the second half.
“I don’t know why I am so blessed to coach these guys,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said, his eyes welling with moisture. “Just proud of our players: their resolve, their grit, their perseverance.”
Despite allowing five touchdowns after halftime, Navy (5-0) took a huge step toward regaining possession of the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, awarded annually to the team with the most wins in games between Army, Navy and Air Force.
Air Force won it last season after beating Navy 28-14.
Though beating Army will always be the supreme accomplishment for Navy, this one produced no small measure of joy — especially because the winner of the Navy-Air Force matchup has captured the trophy every year since 1997.
In this one, after Arion Worthman threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Bennett with 1:53 remaining to put the Falcons up 45-41, Abey moved the Midshipmen 75 yards in 11 plays for the go-ahead score.
Asked what it took for that to happen, Niumatalolo replied, “A lot of praying. Trying to get guys in and out of the huddle. Game management. Clock management.”
It turned out to be the final salvo in a wild game in which Air Force (1-4) amassed 621 yards and Navy accumulated 557, including 471 on the ground.
“We didn’t quit and kept fighting to the very end,” Worthman said. “It was just a matter of who was going to get the ball last.”
Well, 15 seconds just wasn’t enough time.
“If we had a couple more minutes left we could’ve put a drive together,” said Worthman, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores.
Abey ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns, and Malcolm Perry contributed two long scores.
Of the last drive, Abey said, “In our minds we felt we would score. The guys did their job.”
The Midshipmen converted a short punt and two Air Force fumbles into three touchdowns and a 28-10 halftime lead. After a 75-yard quarterback keeper by Abey made it 38-17 in the third quarter, Air Force rallied.
But the Falcons still came away with their fourth straight loss.
Perry got the Midshipmen started with a 91-yard run and added a 40-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter. The sophomore finished with a career-high 127 yards rushing.
Though Air Force leads the series between these two military academies 29-21, Navy has won 11 of the last 15.
AIR FORCE: This young, rebuilding team knows how to move the football. But the defense is a mess. The Falcons yielded 56 points at New Mexico last week and weren’t much more effective against Navy.
NAVY: The Midshipmen are poised to reclaim the CIC Trophy, and that might be only part of what they accomplish this season if they can get their defense together. Their performance in the second half was nothing short of embarrassing.
A stadium-record crowd of 38,792 watched. The previous record was for the Air Force game in 2013.
JARREN IN THE HOUSE
Jarren Jasper, 14-year-old son of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, was in attendance just two days after ending a lengthy and distressing hospital stay.
Over the summer, an operation to fix Jarren’s abnormally fast heart rate went awry. He went into cardiac arrest and had to be revived on the operating table.
Jarren left the hospital Thursday for the first time since Aug. 4. He is confined to a wheelchair and uses a battery-operated mechanical pump that enables his heart to deliver blood to the body.
AIR FORCE: The Falcons host UNLV next Saturday in a Mountain West Conference matchup. Air Force leads the series 14-6.
NAVY: The Midshipmen travel to Memphis in AAC action. Navy is 2-0 against the Tigers, winning 45-20 in 2015 and 42-28 last year.