The backups stepped front and center Saturday night and, suddenly, unbeaten Navy is looking like a football team that might have its first winning season in 14 years.
Coach Charlie Weatherbie was never more appreciative of the luxury he has with two front-line quarterbacks and two front-line kickers than on the last drive of a stirring, 19-17 win over Southern Methodist, when Tom Vanderhorst kicked a game-winning 38-yard field goal on the final play.
Senior quarterback Ben Fay, relegated to the shadows by a 140-yard rushing effort by Chris McCoy, got the Midshipmen there with a 55-yard advance to the Mustangs' 21, a drive in which he completed three key passes for 44 yards.
Then, Vanderhorst, who has been playing behind freshman Tim Shubzda, kicked the field goal that gave Navy (2-0) its first home-opening win over a Division I-A opponent since 1986.
Shubzda had missed from 37 and 36 yards earlier, and Weatherbie had decided long before the clincher to switch to Vanderhorst.
"After Tim had missed the second one, we talked about it and decided if we got another opportunity, we would give Vandy the chance to kick it," Weatherbie said. "When you've got two great kickers like that that you believe in, it's like having two starters."
Said Vanderhorst: "I knew I was going to do it midway through the third quarter."
Vanderhorst was almost the hero of the Army game last season, connecting for 39- and 22-yard field goals, but was deprived of living his dream when Weatherbie decided to go for the yardage from the Army 1. Navy failed with 8: 26 to play, and Army then marched the length of the field for a winning touchdown.
That was another reason he was the choice to try the crucial kick.
"He had proven himself in a big game, the Army game," said Weatherbie. "And Tom Vanderhorst is a very confident young man. He has never said a word about Shubzda starting in front of him."
McCoy suffered fatigue and was spelled by Fay several times. But on the final drive, Weatherbie had no choice: He needed the better passer with only 2: 40 to play.
The last-second heroics became necessary when SMU -- totally dominated while Navy rolled to a 16-0 first-half lead -- finally got its big-play offense unleashed and took a 17-16 edge with 2: 46 remaining.
Along the way to the climax, McCoy and Omar Nelson (108 yards) gave Navy its second straight game with two 100-yard rushers, the first time that has happened in school history.
The unbeaten Midshipmen are headed for another rugged test this weekend at Boston College, which gave No. 8 Michigan trouble before falling, 20-14.
"We have to play every snap like it's our last," said Weatherbie, alluding to Navy's talent level and tough schedule. "We can't afford to do anything but play our best on every play."
Pub Date: 9/23/96