Meineke Bowl: Boston College 25, Navy 24

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 30, 2006

By Mike Cranston

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE — It’s fitting that Boston College’s bizarre month would end with an improbable finish that made a hero out of a walk-on kicker.

Steve Aponavicius kicked a career-best 37-yard field goal on the final play and the 23rd-ranked Eagles beat the Midshipmen 25-24 in the Meineke Bowl to extend the nation’s current longest bowl-winning streak to seven.

“What they had to overcome and all the adversity,” interim coach Frank Spaziani said. “No one asked about Navy. Everyone was talking about the situation.”

“The situation” was former coach Tom O’Brien’s stunning decision three weeks ago to leave BC for ACC rival North Carolina State. Green Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was hired to replace him, but won’t join the team until the Packers’ season is over.

Spaziani, the defensive coordinator and a former Navy assistant, has filled the gap and is expected to stay on as an assistant under Jagodzinski. But several assistants are also expected to join O’Brien’s staff.

For much of the game, it looked like the distractions would be too much to overcome for BC. Navy, the nation’s top rushing team, had 322 yards on the ground and seemingly had the game won.

BC (10-3) was out of timeouts and Navy only had to run out the final two minutes. But Reggie Campbell fumbled a pitch from quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and BC’s Jolonn Dunbar recovered at the Navy 40 with 1:43 left.

Matt Ryan completed a 16-yard pass to tight end Ryan Purvis and Aponavicius, who played soccer — not football — in high school and replaced the suspended Ryan Ohliger in midseason, calmly kicked the game-winner, setting off a wild celebration.

“Considering the circumstances for the past three or four weeks to get this win is really special, not only for the coaching staff but it’s also special for the players,” Ryan said. “All that we’ve been through to come out and win the way we did, that’s something that I’ll always remember.”

Ryan completed 20-of-29 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown pass and a TD run, and overcame two interceptions and three sacks.

Shun White rushed for 116 yards and Kaheaku-Enhada threw two touchdown passes for Navy (9-4), which had a four-game winning streak snapped.

White’s 53-yard run set up Kaheaku-Enhada’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Jason Tomlinson, who made a juggling catch in triple coverage, giving Navy a 21-13 lead midway through the second quarter.

BC got within 24-22 on Ryan’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Purvis with 7:36 left in the game. Forced to go for a 2-point conversion because of Aponavicius’ missed extra point in the first quarter, Tony Gonzalez dropped Ryan’s pass in the back of the end zone.

But Campbell’s fumble gave the Eagles — and Aponavicius — another chance.

“I’m kind of beating myself up,” Campbell said. “I dropped the ball. I was a good pitch.”

Aponavicius, who had never played organized football before going 2-for-2 on field goals against Virginia Tech on Oct. 12, was mobbed by his teammates, which gave BC its first 10-win season since 1984, when Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy.

“Just to play once was awesome, so to play for most of the season and to be able to win a game like that was more than I could ever ask for,” said Aponavicius.