If new Navy football coach Charlie Weatherbie did not have a quarterback controversy last week, he has one now.
With sophomore starter Chris McCoy struggling to generate some offense for the third straight game, Weatherbie turned to Ben Fay in the second quarter against Villanova.
The junior quarterback from Fort Worth, Texas, scored twice on short runs and led a clinching 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to give the Midshipmen a 20-14 victory before a homecoming crowd of 26,726.
Weatherbie will have two weeks to choose between McCoy and Fay before playing Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
"I think it will be Chris, but I don't know for sure now," the coached hedged. "But Ben did a great job today playing in sloppy conditions. Maybe he's a better mudder than Chris."
However you handicap the quarterbacks, it was a must win for the Midshipmen (3-4), their first victory at home in four tries. But putting away the Division I-AA Wildcats, who had not beaten a I-A rival since 1980, proved extremely difficult.
"I'll take it," Weatherbie said. "I've never seen an ugly win. Just like there's no bad bowl games."
However, this could have proved a major embarrassment for the Midshipmen if the Wildcats had not self-destructed.
All of Navy's three touchdowns resulted from turnovers, with cornerback Sean Andrews making a pair of interceptions to raise his season total to seven, and linebacker Travis Cooley recovering a fumble deep in Villanova territory to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
But botched offensive opportunities most disturbed Villanova coach Andy Talley.
Talley said two missed field goals by Annapolis native Mark Kiefer "really hurt. And our receiver, Josh Dolbin, turned the wrong way on that interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
"When you're a big underdog, you have to maximize your opportunities. It's a shame, because our defense played well enough to win."
Despite all their mistakes, the Wildcats (2-5) still had an opportunity to pull an upset when cornerback Curtis Dunaway ** recovered a fumble by fullback Irv Dingle on the Villanova 10.
Sparked by reserve sophomore quarterback Clint Park's two completions, Villanova marched 81 yards in 14 plays, and a successful conversion by Kiefer made it 20-14 with 2:23 left.
An onside kick attempt then failed when Aston Heaven covered on the Villanova 44, and Navy was able to run out the clock.
Villanova (2-5) jumped to a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes after McCoy fumbled on the Navy 43. From there, tailback Anthony Cowsette carried on almost every play, completing the seven-play drive with a 1-yard dive.
Andrews' first interception on the Villanova 40 set up Navy's first score. Sophomore fullback Tim Cannada (23 carries for 108 yards), getting his first start in place of injured Omar Nelson, did the brunt of the work in advancing the ball to the 1, from where Fay scored on a keeper.
Jason Covarrubias' extra point try sailed under the crossbar, leaving Navy trailing 7-6 at halftime.
The Midshipmen appeared to have a different mind-set in the second half. "We just decided we wanted to play some football," Weatherbie said. "We're not at a level we can just show up to win a game."
The Mids moved ahead after Cooley recovered Park's fumble on the Villanova 12. A pass interference call moved the ball to the 2, and on his second try Fay squeezed his body into the end zone.
After an offside penalty, Fay used a quarterback draw for a successful two-point conversion.
Andrews then killed Villanova's chance to tie early in the fourth quarter by out-jumping Dolbin in the end zone.
"I just forced him inside and our safety helped," said Andrews. "Then I just happened to jump a little higher."
Next for Navy
Opponent: Notre Dame
Site: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
When: Nov. 4, 1:30 p.m.
Yesterday: Beat Southern California, 38-10.