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Navy, helped by a late penalty, holds for a defeat of Army

Army-Navy games are not supposed to end with boos. Not even those that are played in Philadelphia. This rivalry's wonderful tradition says courage and drama ought to conclude them, not some ticky-tack penalty.

This article was originally published on December 3, 2000.

Army-Navy games are not supposed to end with boos. Not even those that are played in Philadelphia.
This rivalry's wonderful tradition says courage and drama ought to conclude them, not some ticky-tack penalty.

So when a questionable flag in the final 90 seconds killed an Army comeback and allowed Navy to escape with a 30-28 victory yesterday, it felt as if some technical violation during a prisoners exchange had ended a bloody war.

And when, after Navy quarterback Brian Broadwater took a knee on three straight plays, the PSINet Stadium clock finally showed all zeroes, a sizable portion of the 70,685 fans at Baltimore's first Army-Navy game in 54 years booed like residents of the city that normally hosts these annual classics.

"There were some pretty abnormal penalties," Army coach Todd Berry said at the end of his first season at West Point. "Things that don't get called very often during the season."

What irritated Berry and his team's frigid fans was a borderline running-into-the-kicker call with 1:29 left.

One minute and 15 seconds after Army substitute quarterback Curtis Zervic hit Anthony Miller on a third-and-9, 21-yard scoring pass to pull the Cadets to within 30-28, Navy lined up for a 42-yard field goal.

David Hills' kick was low and wide. But 5-foot-6 defensive back Andrew Burke tripped on a Navy leg as he rushed from the edge. He stumbled, spun around and, while maintaining his balance, nicked Hills with his back.

The Navy kicker paused an instant to watch his miss, then fell backward. The 5-yard penalty allowed Navy to keep the ball and, since Army was without any time-outs, effectively ended the game.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time," said Burke, who said he spun around to try to avoid contact, "they don't call that."

The 4,000 midshipmen occupying a noisy corner of this spiffy, two-year-old stadium made like it was V-E Day - even though their team, like Army, had finished with a 1-10 record. They jumped and hollered and tossed their white hats into the clear, frosty air.

It was Navy's second consecutive victory in this historic series that it now trails, 48-46-7. The next two games will be played at Veterans Stadium. Then it is anyone's guess.

Given the weekend jammed with fan-friendly events and the quality of the stadium, several players said they would not mind seeing the game held here far more often than once every half-century.

"This is the nicest stadium I've ever played in," said Navy senior defensive back Chris Lepore, who recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. "I don't really like the Vet. The turf is really hard and the stadium is old and not that nice."

Navy, playing within a short sail of Annapolis and having a majority of the fans in its corner, looked as if it were on its way to an uncharacteristic rout. After Army's Michael Wallace (159 yards on 19 carries) opened the scoring with a 65-yard TD on an off-tackle burst just 2:16 into the game, the Midshipmen responded with 27 straight points.

Broadwater operated the option perfectly, finishing with 114 rushing yards, including a 45-yard TD run late in the first period that put Navy up, 10-7.

They were aided by an ineffective Army offense - particularly starting quarterback Joe Gerena (4 of 15 for 46 yards and an interception) - that produced five turnovers.

But in the second half, Berry went with Zervic, a junior, on offense, and strung out his defense wide enough to contain Navy's option pitches.

"Curtis came in and provided a nice spark," Berry said of Zervic, who was 9 of 15 for 99 yards and two TDs. "He was the lacrosse manager last year and about 10th string when we started practice last spring."

After Army's Ben Woodruff scored on a blocked punt late in the third quarter and Brian Bruenton caught a fourth-and-16, 23-yard TD pass midway through the fourth, Navy's lead had been cut to 27-21.

The Army defense stopped Navy again, but Omari Thompson fumbled the ensuing punt. Navy recovered at the Army 19 and, with 5:32 to play, Hills' 27-yard field goal gave the Midshipmen a nine-point lead.

"They made some nice adjustments on us in the second half," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "They played with the kind of character you'd expect to see in a rivalry as rich as this one."

Raheem Lambert lost the ball at his own 29 on Navy's next drive. The Army side, which on this cold but beautifully blue afternoon had quietly occupied its share of the stadium, sparked to life.

On a fourth-and-16, Zervic scrambled away from a rush, rolled to his right, and found Miller alone in the end zone. It was now 30-28 with 2:44 left, and there was color in the faces of the Long Gray Line.

"That was my man," said Lepore. "If I had done my job, they would not have scored."

Army tried an onside kick and appeared to recover. But the wildly bounding ball had scraped a Cadet player's knee just before it had traveled 10 yards. The Corps of Cadets celebrated wildly, but briefly. The officials awarded the ball to Navy.

"That was a huge play," Zervic said. "It looked like we had it. I was getting ready to go back out there when I saw the flag. "

Navy took over at the 44, and after a first down, stalled at the 26. That's when Miller came on for his failed field goal and successful acting job.

"I was watching the kick," said Weatherbie. "When I looked back at the field, I saw our kicker and the flag down on the field."

Army's spirits were down there too.

"If we played better in the first half, it doesn't come down to that," Berry said.