Navy knocked Delaware from the unbeaten ranks and kept its hopes alive for its first winning season in 13 years by routing the Blue Hens, 31-7, yesterday before 30,169 at wind-swept Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Midshipmen (4-5) have Tulane and archrival Army remaining on their schedule.
"This is my fourth year, and every year we've said this is the season we're going to turn it around," said senior defensive end Andy Person, who led the Navy defense with three sacks. "This really is the year we can build on our memories by winning our last two games."
The Midshipmen kept their dream alive by playing their most complete game of the season under new coach Charlie Weatherbie.
"I was really scared of Delaware coming in," said Weatherbie. "They were averaging almost 38 points a game and their wing-T is really explosive. But playing Air Force earlier in the season helped us learn how to play assignment football.
"Today, we won every phase of the game -- offense, defense and the kicking game. But we owe special thanks to our defensive coordinator, Dick Bumpas. Holding Delaware to seven points was a real accomplishment."
It was an especially costly defeat for Delaware, ranked fourth in Division 1-AA with a 9-0 record this season and undefeated over the last 15 games.
The Blue Hens also may have lost their outstanding quarterback, Leo Hamlett. The junior from Northfield, N.J., who had amassed 2,137 yards and scored 20 touchdowns in the first seven games, lost the tip of his middle finger on his left hand while running a keeper play early in the third quarter.
Hamlett will undergo surgery today, have a pin inserted in the hand and be fitted with a brace. He hopes to be able to play Saturday in the season finale at Rhode Island. The winner gains an automatic I-AA playoff berth.
Whatever chance the Blue Hens had of beating Navy, their only Division I-A foe, ended with Hamlett's injury. Once he departed, the Blue Hens, trailing 24-7, lost all semblance of an offense, moving mostly in reverse under reserve quarterback Keith Langan.
Delaware coach Tubby Raymond, who has compiled a 248-95-3 record in 30 seasons, offered no excuse. "We got an old-fashioned butt-kicking," he said. "We didn't block, tackle or execute. All the talk of a tournament overrode the fact we were playing a good Navy team today."
The outcome was really determined in the opening minutes of the second half. The Mids' early 17-0 lead had been reduced to 17-7 when Hamlett threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Conti with 51 seconds left in the half.
"At halftime, we talked about re-establishing our momentum," Weatherbie said.
Junior quarterback Ben Fay, who played impressively last week in his first start against Notre Dame, got the message loud and clear. He squirmed free on a keeper and raced 73 yards to give the Mids a 24-7 lead with 53 seconds gone in the third quarter.
"We cut off their end and they went for the pitch," said the lanky Texan. "Then I saw something I hadn't seen for a long time -- an open field. I kept thinking, 'Make sure the ball is secure.' It was my longest run since high school, but that might have been against a girls team."
Two minutes later, Navy's defense, led by Person, safety Joe Speed and linebacker Clint Bruce, made its best stand of the season.
Delaware recovered a fumble by Omar Nelson on the Navy 46, and the Hamlett-Conti combination clicked again on a 36-yard completion, with Speed tripping Conti on the 1-yard line.
Aided by two Navy penalties -- including their second 12-men-on-the-field call in two games -- the Blue Hens had six cracks at the goal line and failed.
Hamlett was injured during that sequence. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, Person held Langan to no gain, but the Mids were offside. Langan's final crack from the 1 was thwarted by safety Andy Thompson.
Sophomore Chris McCoy, who had started the first six games for Navy at quarterback, replaced Fay in the fourth quarter and put the game out of reach by darting 33 yards for a touchdown.
Navy took full advantage of the blustery 25-mph winds in the first half. By having Delaware kick into the wind in the first quarter, the Mids gained excellent field position and jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a 20-yard run by Patrick McGrew and a 26-yard field goal by Jason Covarrubias.
Another short punt to the Delaware 39 set up Fay's 18-yard scoring pitch to split end Courtney Butts early in the second quarter.
Navy rolled up 457 yards offensively, but most of the plaudits went to the defense that limited the potent Blue Hens to 241 yards.
Next for Navy
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Yesterday: Lost to Rutgers, 45-40.