Connor Dietz, Air Force’s senior quarterback, stood motionless at the 35-yard line, his eyes fixed on his devastated teammates and their jubilant conquerors.
Air Force’s two-game winning streak over Navy ended after the Midshipmen’s bold, unlikely comeback. Navy overcame an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit to take a 28-21 overtime victory.
Dietz had seen the Falcons power to 507 yards of total offense Saturday, including 204 yards rushing by Cody Getz. He had seen the Falcons survive three lost fumbles to take a 21-13 fourth-quarter lead.
And he had seen the Falcons lose.
The defeat drops Air Force to 2-3 for the season with the Falcons dropping those three games by a total of 16 points. Navy, which had lost 10 of its previous 14 games, climbs to 2-3.
“It never crossed my mind we wouldn’t win this game,” Dietz said. “I was in shock and disbelief. Just like that, it was gone.”
With 9:03 left, senior receiver Drew Coleman sneaked behind the Navy defense on a trick play and caught a 54-yard touchdown pass from fellow receiver Dontae Strickland.
The Falcons seemed to reside in a cozy, safe place. Navy’s starting quarterback Trey Miller was hobbling on the sideline with an injured right ankle. He had rushed for 110 yards. He would not return.
Freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds emerged from the bench to rescue the Midshipmen. He completed his first three passes, quickly moving his teammates to the Air Force 15-yard line. From there, Reynolds sprinted virtually untouched for a touchdown, and Noah Copeland tied the game with a 2-point conversion.
Air Force failed to answer. The Falcons and Midshipmen traded punts, and Air Force took over with under a minute left. The Falcons moved to the Navy 34-yard line in regulation’s final seconds, setting up a 51-yard field goal for struggling placekicker Parker Herrington.
Herrington missed a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter that would have given Air Force a 10-0 advantage. He missed the potential game-winner wide left too.
Navy, now surging with momentum in overtime, moved from the Air Force 25 to the 7 and faced a third-and-3. Gee Gee Greene took a pitch from Reynolds and moved to the Air Force 1.
“We got to come up with a stop there,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
Reynolds fumbled as he dived into the end zone on the next play, and guard Jake Zuzek recovered. Navy led, 28-21, and Air Force had to score a touchdown to remain alive.
That didn’t happen. Three straight runs by Getz gained only 5 yards, setting up a fourth-and-6 at the Navy 21. Dietz retreated into the pocket, where he saw receiver Chris Jordan open on a curl pattern. His pass was swatted to the ground by defensive end Wes Henderson.
“One of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” Henderson said.
And one of the worst feelings for Dietz, who was soon standing alone at the 35.
“He would have had it,” Dietz said of the pass to Jordan. “He had some yards and some field ahead of him.”
The game started with promise for the Falcons. Air Force quickly seized control of the game, moving to a 7-0 lead after a 35-yard touchdown pass from Dietz to Coleman on the opening drive. The Falcons then immediately moved to the 9-yard line on their next drive, but they stalled and Herrington missed a field goal.
It was a fight after that. Air Force lost fumbles on three consecutive drives in the second quarter, helping Navy walk into the locker room with a 10-7 halftime lead.
The victory gives Navy a strong edge in the struggle for the 2012 Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. A win over Army would give Navy the trophy for the eighth time in the past 10 seasons.
Navy has beaten Army 10 straight times.