MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Navy ventured into the mountains of West Virginia yesterday and found a breath of fresh air for its football season.
Gasping after two consecutive narrow defeats, the Midshipmen resurrected their ability to win a competitive game, outlasting a downtrodden West Virginia team, 31-28, on Tim Shubzda's 29-yard field goal with 2: 53 left to play and a last-minute interception by Chris Lepore.
It was a major victory for Navy (2-3), which had lost four straight games decided by five or fewer points dating to last season and faces one of its biggest rivals next Saturday in Air Force. That it arrived before 52,875 hostile fans at Mountaineer Field only sweetened the outcome.
"This feels so good, like night and day from the last two," said slotback Dre Brittingham, who contributed a career-high 124 of Navy's 388 yards rushing.
"We were fortunate to find a way to end up on the top side of the score," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "We can build on this and springboard into this next game with Air Force."
The Midshipmen were also fortunate to find an opponent with more struggles than themselves. West Virginia (1-4) played without its outstanding quarterback, Marc Bulger, who is out with a fractured finger on his throwing hand, and continued to be very charitable on defense, permitting 30 first downs and a shade more than its per-game point allowance.
"Obviously, we can't stop anyone if we can't tackle them," said Mountaineers coach Don Nehlen. "I never had any illusions that we'd be a great defensive football team, but I thought we'd be decent.
"We've got a long way to go. I'm glad we have a week off. Maybe we can beat 'open' next week."
Navy launched four touchdown marches of 80 yards in the game, grinding out the yardage with a diverse attack that featured first-down passes, a lot of counter options to Brittingham and John Vereen and liberal substitution early to prevent another late fallout.
"We got the ball distributed to a lot of different players," said Navy quarterback Brian Broadwater, who rushed for 110 yards in his third 100-yard rushing game of the year. "We're starting to hit on all cylinders, so we capitalized and put he ball in the end zone. I think we're just getting more experienced at it."
The clinching drive began at the Navy 23 and featured an 18-yard Broadwater completion to Matt O'Donnell, the quarterback's 16-yard scamper and a 16-yard gain up the middle by fullback Marlon Terrell before the advance stalled.
Shubzda was perfect on a 29-yard field goal from the right hash mark, leaving the Mountaineers with a three-point deficit and less than three minutes (with no timeouts left) to do something about it.
Reserve quarterback Brad Lewis, who played creditably enough in Bulger's absence, had a pass picked off by Navy's Gary Lane, but a roughing the passer penalty gave West Virginia new life at the Navy 45.
A 19-yard connection to Anthony Becht -- recipient of two earlier Lewis touchdown passes -- sustained the drive and Avon Cobourne bulled his way to a first down on fourth-and-one to put West Virginia within striking distance of a game-tying field goal.
But Lewis' next attempt caromed off Becht at the Navy 24 and Lepore caught the rebound to stifle the final threat and saddle the Mountaineers with three straight defeats for the first time since 1994.
Broadwater ran for three of the Midshipmen's touchdowns despite having the wind knocked out him by Mountaineers linebacker Barrett Green's hit on the final play of the Navy drive before the field goal.
He said that giving the West Virginia defense a lot to think about early might have contributed significantly to what happened later when Navy did not fold in the stretch.
"Throwing early kind of loosened them up a little bit. We've been running the belly series a lot and that got them thinking. We didn't complete too many early, but it had them stopping and wondering."
The counter action was also a different twist for an offense which has stagnated lately when it counted most.
"We knew their linebackers were fast and athletic," said Broadwater. "So we wanted to take advantage of that."
Next for Navy
Opponent: Air Force
Site: Redskins Stadium, Landover
When: Saturday, noon
Yesterday: Played San Diego State