After watching his starting quarterback commit four turnovers and his offense sputter for almost three quarters yesterday against overmatched Colgate, Navy coach George Chaump said, "This was the kind of game we would have come off the field a loser the past two years."
But this is a new season, a year in which an improved defense can bail out a faltering offense. Two blocked kicks and an interception led to three Navy touchdowns and the Midshipmen ultimately wore down the Division I-AA Red Raiders, 31-3, before 21,780 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
In recent years, such a victory would have triggered a wild celebration at the Academy. But quarter back Jim Kubiak, who was benched briefly in the third quarter, put things in perspective.
"This was disappointing because we expected to win, 60-0," he said.
Still, this fourth straight home victory boosted the Mids' record to 4-2, the earliest they have reached that number of victories since 1981 when they finished 7-4-1 and lost to Ohio State in the Liberty Bowl.
But it was anything but pretty.
Kubiak, on a pace to shatter all of Navy's single-season passing records, suffered a rare off day, giving up two fumbles and throwing a pair of interceptions. His erratic play led to his being benched twice in the third quarter in favor of fellow junior Tony Solliday.
"I don't know what Jim's problems were today," said Chaump, "but he seemed to have trouble picking up receivers and a couple of times he threw the ball up for grabs. I just wanted to settle him down, but I didn't want to shatter his confidence."
Kubiak returned a play later, only to fumble the ball away.
"I got a little rattled out there, but it was just one of those days," said Kubiak, who finished the day 23-for-35 for 252 yards -- his fifth straight 200-plus yard game.
"The coach told me I was going back to my dumb jock South Buffalo days. They were using a basic 4-4 defense and dropping a lot of people back to guard against the long ball. They didn't use any stunts. I just wasn't picking things up."
But the defense picked up everything in sight.
The game was less than three minutes old when defensive back Kevin Mattix broke through to block Tom Morelli's punt. Fellow defensive back Robert Green recovered on the Colgate 10 and ran it in for a touchdown. Dave Gwinn converted for a 7-0 lead with only 2 minutes, 11 seconds off the clock.
"The punting game was a weakness in the game we picked up by watching their game films," said Mattix. "They took time getting kicks off and overloaded the right side. It gave me a clear path down the middle."
Defensive back Andy Thompson, making his first start in place of injured Joe Speed (hamstring), had a banner day. The sophomore from Ferndale, Wash., made nine unassisted tackles, had an interception and blocked another Morelli punt for Navy's third touchdown to start the fourth quarter.
Thompson's first big play came early in the second quarter when he intercepted Chris Lane's pass on the Navy 42 and returned it to midfield.
Kubiak's passes to split end Damon Dixon and tight end Kevin Hickman, plus a pass interference call, advanced the ball to the 6. He then found Dixon open in the right corner of the end zone. Gwinn again added the extra point for a 14-0 lead.
Kubiak then put together one of his best scoring drives, moving the Mids 70 yards on seven plays before Gwinn kicked a 35-yard field goal just as the halftime gun sounded.
The Mids provided some comic relief on their final touchdown when 300-pound tackle Max Lane, a prime target of NFL scouts, bolted three yards from the fullback spot to cap an 84-yard march.
Lane then tossed the ball into the stands, leading to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
"Truthfully, I've been dreaming about doing this for a long, long time," said Lane. "When it finally happened, I guess I got a little too excited."
The Red Raiders (2-4) had a number of scoring opportunities, advancing the ball inside the Navy 40 on four occasions.
But the Mids' defense, led by Thompson (13 tackles), linebacker Javier Zuluaga and defensive end David Shaw prevented Colgate from penetrating the end zone.
Limited to 234 total yards, the Raiders' only score came late in the third quarter when a drive stalled on the Navy 18 and Steve Franco made a 29-yard field goal.
But when Chris Lane was helped off the field early in the fourth quarter after tearing a ligament in his left knee that could sideline him for a month, Colgate lost any hope for a dramatic comeback.
"Those two blocked punts were killers for us," said Ed Sweeney, in his first year as head coach of the Red Raiders. "But defensively, I felt we played very well. We didn't shy away from anything."
Colgate's chief threat, running back Bill Sporacio, who had averaged just under 100 yards rushing in the first five games, gained 75 yards on 17 carries, but was held to a long gain of 16 yards.
"We concentrated on stopping Sporacio and Lane," said Zuluaga. "We knew if we could stop them, we'd be in control."
Navy steps up in class this Saturday, going on the road to play Louisville, ranked No. 23 in The Associated Press Top 25.