Navy brought its football season to a glorious conclusion yesterday at Veterans Stadium, playing near-flawless football and dominating Army, 19-9, in their historic 100th meeting before a game-record 70,049 fans watching in ideal weather.
The Midshipmen did not commit a turnover, unleashed precocious quarterback Brian Madden for 177 yards rushing, forced Army into four turnovers and never trailed while defeating their rival for the second time in three years.Although its offense had to settle for a series-record-tying four field goals by Tim Shubzda and just one touchdown, Navy did enough to gain 216 yards on the ground and gain its first national rushing title with a 292.2-yard average.
Meanwhile, the Navy defense rationed the nation's No. 4 running team to 115 rushing yards, recovered three fumbles (two by senior Gino Marchetti) and intercepted a pass. Army did not have a first down until the second quarter and couldn't get into the end zone until 4: 47 remained in the game.
"The cards fell our way," said Marchetti. "I couldn't be more thankful. I played with my heart on my shoulder."
Still, there was a somewhat hollow feeling among the Navy seniors, who launched 1999 with greater expectations than their final 5-7 record. Six of their seven defeats were by seven or fewer points, and a reversal of a couple of those results could have landed them in a bowl game.
"Our tears of joy were well past due," said senior slotback John Vereen. "We were heartbroken so much this season. We were in every game except Georgia Tech [a 49-14 loss in the season opener]. We'll never forget this win over Army, but it'll never make up for all the losses. It's bittersweet."
Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie said fundamentals would be the telling point in a game that pitted run-oriented offenses. He was prophetic, as Navy refused to beat itself, running effectively, kicking exceptionally well and playing alert, resourceful defense.
Sophomore Madden -- who finished with 943 yards rushing to lead the team despite making just five starts -- credited a smart, veteran offensive line for his success.
"They have done a good job all year," he said. "We've got great leaders up front [the foremost being center Terrence Anderson]. It's a compliment to them to say we led the country in rushing. We struggled a little bit and had to take field goals, but it didn't hurt us."
Madden marched Navy 67 yards in 11 plays for its only touchdown, gaining 37 himself and springing fullback Raheem Lambert for 17 to the Cadet 8. Madden plunged the last 2 yards.
While the Cadets sputtered and fumbled, their wishbone bending, Navy converted a Marcus Jackson recovery of a botched punt return into Shubzda's first field goal and then countered an Army field goal with another by Shubzda 16 seconds before halftime. The Midshipmen were not letting loose of their advantage.
Marchetti thwarted Army's first two possessions of the second half with big plays while Shubzda continued to split the uprights and the Midshipmen built their edge to 19-3.
Army (3-8) didn't fold, finally reaching the end zone with the help of a reversed call on Joe Gerena's fourth-down pass to Calvin Smith at the Navy 7. Four downs later, Gerena rolled far right, passed back across the field to an unattended Shaun Castillo, cutting the margin to 10 points when a two-point conversion try failed.
But the Cadets had used their timeouts trying to avert some offensive uncertainty and John Chavous intercepted a Gerena pass to seal the victory.
Mistakes were costly for Army, whose advantage in the storied series dropped to 48-45-7.
"Turnovers are a huge momentum boost in a game like this," said Cadet nose guard Scott Kozak. "I thought Navy had the momentum for a good portion of the game. They forced the turnovers and we couldn't get it done defensively. Our two service academy games this year were the only two where we didn't force any turnovers."
The loss was Army coach Bob Sutton's third to Navy in nine games.
"These guys have hung together and fought together throughout this year," said Weatherbie. "They have really grown and developed so much character and camaraderie after going through some tough, tough times. This is a great springboard into next year."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun