HOUSTON — Andre Ware described New Mexico’s penalty in two words.
“That hurts,” Ware said, as he announced the 2004 Emerald Bowl for ESPN2. New Mexico was trailing Navy 31-19 with 22 seconds to go in the third quarter. New Mexico had a chance to get the ball back with good field position after a pass on third down was incomplete. An offsides penalty kept Navy’s drive alive.
Missouri (8-4) vs. Navy (9-4)
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
The Midshipmen capitalized on the mistake. They ran a 26-play, 14:26 drive for a field goal. The drive, an NCAA record for both number of plays and time elapsed, demonstrated what can be done with Navy’s wishbone offense, which keeps the ball on the ground and the clock moving. While the players are different, Navy runs the same offensive system now. The Midshipmen play Missouri in the Texas Bowl at 2:30 Thursday in Houston.
The drive in 2004 left New Mexico with only 2:15 to make up a 15-point deficit. It began with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter. New Mexico didn’t have enough time to make up the points. The Lobos lost 34-19.
“To me it sort of defined the option,” said Tyson Stahl, an offensive lineman on the 2004 Navy team. “And that was my last drive of my college football career, of my football career period. And to me that just sort of defined, ‘Hey, this is what we can do to you with this offense, we can run 26 plays and eat up an entire quarter of the game clock and only kick a field goal and be happy with it.’”
Navy began the drive on its own 1-yard line after a turnover on downs.
“Their defense was fired up,” Stahl said. “This was a chance for them to maybe try to work a safety on us or stop us, get good field position, come back, get themselves back in the game with plenty of time. And we basically, we took that time away.”
Navy ran the ball 21 times on the drive, passing four times. The field goal was the 26th play.
Navy faced eight third downs on the drive and converted six of them. It ran a trick play to convert one fourth down and kicked a field goal on the other.
When 5:58 had elapsed on the drive, Eric Collins, Ware’s broadcast partner, began to realize the drive could get especially long.
“This is the type of drive, that if you’re a defender for New Mexico, it just tears your guts out,” Collins said on the ESPN2 broadcast.
When 12:15 had elapsed on the drive, the cameras panned to some players on New Mexico’s sideline before a commercial break.
“The looks are getting a little long,” Collins told viewers.
The broadcast returned from the break and Collins had more to say about the length of the drive.
“This drive has been something to write home about,” he said. “This drive has been absolutely amazing.”
It ended with Geoff Blumenfeld making a 22-yard field goal for Navy.
In 2004, Navy was coached by Paul Johnson. Johnson has since left for Georgia Tech. Ken Niumatalolo, a former Johnson assistant, is in his second full season as head coach. The system remains largely the same, including the emphasis on running long drives and keeping the ball away from the other team.
“That’s always our biggest strategy,” Niumatalolo said. “Our defense has been great, the defense has been the strength of our team, but a bigger part of what we try to do is manage the clock, try to possess the clock, try to limit their possessions, try to keep Blaine Gabbert and Danario Alexander off the field.”
This season, Navy’s average time of possession for a game has been 33:23, leaving the opponent with 26:37. For comparison, Missouri, who runs a very different system, averaged 28:27 of possession and left the opponent with 31:33.
“A lot of people would say this offense is not designed to be a comeback type of offense,” Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs said. “To keep it from getting in that position, you have to kind of control the ball.”
Kyle Eckel, a fullback on the 2004 team, didn’t initially realize how long the record drive had lasted.
“I remember halfway through it, I took a knee,” Eckel said. “And I looked over to the sideline, I kind of caught my breath, the sideline was kind of waving me in. I was like, ‘No, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.’ I kind of didn’t realize what the panic was.”
Once Eckel realized how long the drive had lasted, he felt bad about it taking so long. He learned some of the seniors on the defense had worried they might not get to play in the fourth quarter of their last game.
“They wanted to get out there and play their final downs,” Eckel said. “That’s a little bit of what’s special about playing ball at a school where most likely you’re not going to play another snap for the rest of your life.”