The ship that appeared headed toward smoother waters scraped bottom yesterday.
Ahead 23 points in the second quarter against a dangerous Akron team, Navy failed to apply the finishing touches to its expected homecoming victory and wound up losing, 35-29, before 30,780 chilled spectators at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
This one was a real downer for the Midshipmen (2-5), who dropped their fifth in a row at their home base and eighth straight when acting as the home team (including neutral sites).
Moreover, quarterback Brian Broadwater injured his collarbone in the third quarter and departed. X-rays today or tomorrow will determine his availability for next week's visit to Notre Dame.
Once up 23-0, Navy seemed to have the game under control into the fourth period after a 29-yard field goal by Tim Shubzda produced a 29-13 lead. The Akron offense was sputtering while operating against a stiff wind and Navy's defense, which had been improving weekly.
But changing ends had a profound effect on the finish. Shubdza hit the crossbar on a 44-yard attempt on the third play of the fourth quarter, denying the Midshipmen a 19-point cushion.
"The kid has hit every crossbar there is," said Navy safety Chris Lepore. "You're kicking into the wind there. That's good if there is no wind or one at his back. But we were still up three scores. I was thinking 'just go on the field and shut them down again.' We didn't do that."
The Navy defense buckled badly, allowing two huge gainers that led to touchdowns, and the special teams permitted a 66-yard punt return by Brandon Payne for a third touchdown. Toss in two two-point conversions and the Zips ripped the Midshipmen for 22 points in less than eight minutes and took the lead.
With Broadwater sidelined, sophomore Brian Madden took over and the first two series did not produce a first down.
On Madden's final possession, the Midshipmen (now trailing by six) slogged to the Akron 34 before a crucial personal foul penalty knocked them back to the 48. The Zips then ran out the clock.
"I'm embarrassed," Navy nose guard Gino Marchetti said of the team blowing a 23-point lead, believed to be the biggest in school history. "It's shocking. I think everyone in the stands ought to get a refund for this. It's inexcusable."
That Navy lost to Akron was not so embarrassing in itself. The Zips have won four in a row and, at 6-2, have clinched their first winning season since 1992.
"We ran into a good football team," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "They can score a lot of points."
But the nature of the defeat was particularly troublesome. A Shubdza field goal on the final play of the first half had hoisted Navy ahead by 16.
"We should have good momentum coming into the second half, then come back out and don't move the football. We have to learn the killer instinct," Weatherbie said.
The Midshipmen should have been refreshed after a bye week, but were dismantled late. Fifty-four yards of second-half penalties didn't help either.
"We get a week off and come out playing like complete crap," said Marchetti. "We had a lot of stupid penalties that kept them alive and missed assignments and mental errors that are drive killers."
Navy -- which ranked third nationally in rushing before the game -- ran for 128 yards, a season low, and passed for 222, a season high, with 118 of them coming on two early Broadwater touchdown throws.
"This is as big a win for us against a Division I program in a long time," said Zips coach Lee Owens.
Weatherbie, who was feeling ill and coached from the coaches' box upstairs, is left with regrouping again before playing a team Navy hasn't beaten since 1963.
"We don't have a whole lot of time to be moping around," he said.
Next for Navy
Opponent: Notre Dame Site: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
When: Saturday, 2: 30 p.m.