HONOLULU -- Naval Academy senior co-captain Ben Fay, who has played in the shadow of junior quarterback Chris McCoy all season, ended his college football career with a Roger Staubach-like performance in the Aloha Bowl yesterday.
With Pearl Harbor looming in the background, the Midshipmen proved worthy of their first bowl selection in 15 years by outlasting California, 42-38, in a record-breaking 3-hour, 31-minute shootout.
Fay replaced McCoy with 10: 25 left to play and the Midshipmen trailing 38-28. He directed touchdown marches of 80 and 84 yards, scoring on runs of 2 and 10 yards to cap the comeback.
A pro-Navy crowd of 30,411 was left emotionally drained as the two teams combined for 1,080 yards to shatter the Aloha Bowl record. An electrifying 100-yard kickoff return by Cal freshman Deltha O'Neal on the opening kickoff set the tone for the spectacular Christmas Day display.
But the Midshipmen, who accounted for 646 yards of the total, needed a number of clutch plays in the fourth quarter to win their first bowl appearance since 1981 and finish the 1996 season 9-3, their most victories since 1978.
And Fay, who has played sparingly this season, proved the unlikely hero with a major assist from slotback CorySchemm, junior fullback Tim Cannada and an aroused Navy defense that limited Cal to three points in the second half.
Fay tried his best to play down his role in the dramatic comeback.
"That's the role I've been playing all season. If the team needs a spark, I get the call," Fay said.
Fay's opportunity to win the game came after the Bears (6-6) committed their only turnover of the game.
Senior quarterback Pat Barnes, who helped Cal to a 35-28 lead in a wild first half, completed 27 of 38 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. But his one mistake will haunt Barnes, who is headed for a career in the NFL.
Faced with third-and-nine on the Navy 31, Barnes dropped back to pass and felt a fierce rush. He scrambled desperately for a first down only to have the ball shredded by defensive tackle David Viger. Defensive end Jerome Dixon recovered on the 16.
Needing to drive 84 yards with three minutes remaining was a task that Fay, the son of a high school coach, savored.
"I love to be running a two-minute offense when all I have to do is throw the ball," he said.
Fay needed only six plays to produce the winning touchdown. The key play was a 52-yard pass to Schemm, who had five receptions for 194 yards.
Schemm, running a pattern offensive coordinator Paul Johnson described as a "rub play," broke free up the middle and raced to the Bears' 15.
Senior fullback Omar Nelson, who closed out his career with 119 yards on 15 carries, scooted 5 yards to the 10. Fay then faked a handoff, found a big hole up the middle and launched himself the final yard into the end zone with 1: 19 left.
That seemed plenty of time for Barnes and Cal's explosive "Western offense" to stage a rally.
But the Navy defense, led by co-captain and linebacker Clint Bruce (nine tackles), did not allow Barnes any breathing room. He was sacked twice, the last time on Cal's 14, setting off a celebration by the Navy fans.
Bruce, who will be returning to Hawaii next month to participate in the Hula Bowl, gave special praise to his fellow co-captain.
"Ben fought with McCoy in the spring to be the starter. But he's a selfless individual and never complained about the situation," said Bruce. "Whenever we needed him, he was there, and I can't think of a better way to end the season than what happened today."
Surprisingly, it was McCoy who was named the most valuable player, with balloting taking place before the end of the game. McCoy had performed yeoman's work in the first half and finished with 277 yards passing on only nine completions, plus 61 yards rushing.
But Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie, who will be rewarded with a contract extension and major raise when he returns to Annapolis, did not hesitate replacing McCoy.
"We had a couple of turnovers in the third quarter," said Weatherbie, "and we needed to change the momentum a bit. Ben Fay came off the bench earlier this year to help us win games against SMU and Air Force. I didn't hesitate putting him in that situation."
Appropriately, Fay had the final word.
"I praise God for this Christmas," he said. "I don't think I could have had a better present."
Navy bowl history
How Navy has fared in postseason bowls:
Year ... Bowl .......... Result
1924 ... Rose .......... Navy 14, Wash. 14
1955 ... Sugar ......... Navy 21, Miss. 0
1958 ... Cotton ........ Navy 20, Rice 7
1961 ... Orange ........ Missouri 21, Navy 14
1964 ... Cotton ........ Texas 28, Navy 6
1978 ... Holiday ....... Navy 23, BYU 16
1980 ... Garden ........ Houston 35, Navy 0
1981 ... Liberty ....... Ohio St. 31, Navy 28
1996 ... Aloha ......... Navy 42, Cal. 38
Pub Date: 12/26/96