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Navy's season order: End close-loss trend


In close encounters of the football kind, the Naval Academy fared poorly last season.

The Midshipmen lost six games by seven or fewer points, winning only one by that margin. That trend spelled the difference between a final 5-7 record and a potential bowl-game appearance for a team that utilized its option attack to lead the nation in rushing offense for the first time in history.

Tonight, Navy's newest squad will launch its attempt to reverse some of those narrow defeats, hosting a Temple team that hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 1990.

Despite a seemingly much softer assignment than last year's opener (when Navy was blown out by Georgia Tech), the more experienced Midshipmen are not supplying the Owls with any bulletin-board fodder.

"I don't know if you ever have a comfortable opening game," said coach Charlie Weatherbie. "Temple is getting a fresh start, a new beginning. Our job is to take away that will to win from them."

Navy remembers well what can happen when a team is underestimated. In their homecoming game last season, the Midshipmen squandered a 23-0 lead and lost to Akron, 35-29.

With only three seniors on its entire roster - by comparison, Navy has 18 on its two-deep chart - the Owls may have trouble coping with the triple option that will be directed by Brian Broadwater after Brian Madden, the nation's top quarterback rusher, was knocked out of the lineup for an indefinite period by a knee injury in the spring game.

"Inexperience is our major concern," said Temple coach Bobby Wallace, a Division II legend at North Alabama, where he won three national titles. "Navy presents us with a lot of problems because defending the option requires a lot more responsibility and discipline."

But Navy has some gaps in its armor, with thin depth at several positions, two sophomores trying to replace David Ryno at nose guard, relatively green slotbacks and a big question mark at place-kicker, where David Hills and Justin Willis have been erratic in practice.

Weatherbie still isn't sure who will attempt field goals and extra points. "We'll have to take a look in pre-game drills to see who is kicking better," said the coach. "We ought to be consistently able to kick from 37 yards in [on field goals]."

Navy's season goals are unchanged. No. 1 is taking the Commander In Chief's Trophy, which hasn't been present in Annapolis for 19 years. No. 2 is a winning record and qualification for a bowl game. No. 3 is repeating as the country's top rushing team.

The schedule is favorable. Three teams that beat the Midshipmen last season (Georgia Tech, Boston College and Air Force) appear weaker and Navy is expected to be favored in every home game except the Texas Christian meeting.

"If we can keep people healthy, I believe we can have a great year," said Weatherbie. "The schedule presents an opportunity for success."

As usual, the close ones will probably determine the fate of the Midshipmen. If they take their share of those, everything else will probably fall in line.

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