After labeling Saturday's last-second, 27-25 loss to Tulane at the Superdome "one of the worst I've been through," Navy coach George Chaump found cause for optimism.
"Usually, when you commit six turnovers like we did, you get buried," said Chaump, in his 12th year as a head coach, his fourth at the Naval Academy.
"But the fact that we came back and were leading until their kid [Bart Baldwin] kicks the 43-yard field goal at the gun shows how we really dominated the game."
But it was the Tulane players and a slim homecoming crowd of 21,117 who were celebrating while several of the disconsolate Mids reportedly cried in their dressing room.
Statistically, Navy (2-2) had the better of it, particularly in the first half, when it enjoyed a 212-99 advantage in total yardage over the Green Wave and its struggling sophomore quarterback, Craig Randall.
"The way we played in the first half, we really should have been up by 28-0," Chaump said. "Instead, we get only two scores and miss an extra point. Those things come back to haunt you."
Navy's wasted opportunities may have been a harbinger, with the second of quarterback Jim Kubiak's three interceptions killing a drive just before the half ended, leaving the Mids with a 13-0 lead.
But nothing could have prepared Chaump and his Mids for the turnabout in the third quarter.
It started with senior Billy Duncan, who had lost his starting job to Randall, returning to direct a 74-yard drive that trimmed Navy's lead to 13-7.
"We'd prepared our defense for Randall," Chaump said. "But with Duncan, we had to adapt to a running, scrambling quarterback, and he kept us off balance that first drive."
But it was the fumbling Mids who were responsible for staking Tulane to a 24-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, with 17 points resulting from turnovers.
In the space of 62 seconds in the third quarter, tight end Jim Mill and tailback Jason Van Matre fumbled away receptions deep in Navy territory.
Reggie Davis, a 303-pound nose guard, picked up Mill's bobble and ran four yards to give Tulane a 14-13 lead. On Navy's next possession, safety Willie Smith forced Van Matre's fumble and recovered on the 11. This time, Tulane made a 23-yard field goal by Baldwin for a 17-13 cushion.
It became 24-13 early in the fourth quarter when Kubiak, back on his heels, threw a pass that cornerback Brandon Hamilton easily intercepted and ran 53 yards for Tulane's final touchdown.
But Kubiak and the Mids showed resilience. Passing for more than 200 yards for the third straight game, Kubiak found flanker Matt Scornavacchi with a perfectly timed 37-yard bomb to narrow the deficit to 24-19 with 11 minutes remaining.
After Navy's defense stiffened, Kubiak completed a 77-yard drive with a 28-yard pass to Damon Dixon with 3:25 left.
But the Mids' special team did a poor job on the kickoff, and John Hubert returned the ball 30 yards to the Tulane 36.
"With that field position, they didn't really have to go too far to set up the winning field goal," Chaump said.
On Baldwin's kick, the ball barely cleared the crossbar, but it prevented Navy from posting a third straight victory for the first time since 1981.
Now the Mids must look forward to Air Force, a team it has not beaten in the past 11 years.
"We've got to take some of the pressure off Kubiak and start improving our running game," Chaump said. "We can't rely on him passing from deep in our territory. We've got to get more balance in our offense."