DALLAS - When he was hired in December, Paul Johnson vowed to turn the Navy football program around, but he warned people it would take time.
He was right. It took all of one half.
Navy, 1-20 over two seasons and the loser of its previous 10 games, pulled off an emotional upset last night, thumping Southern Methodist, 38-7, before 25,744 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The win was the Midshipmen's first since a 30-28 victory over Army on Dec. 2, 2000.
This one, surprisingly, came in dominating fashion. Navy, a 10 1/2 -point underdog coming in, took a 28-7 first-half lead, rushing for 181 yards and forcing four turnovers before intermission. The Mids hadn't scored 28 points in a half since 1999, and scored 28 points in an entire game only once last season, in a 42-28 loss to Tulane.
"I'm not surprised because I came here expecting to win," Johnson said. "I'm happy for our players. After suffering through what they had to endure last season, I can only imagine how good this feels."
Navy may have discovered a star in junior quarterback Craig Candeto. In the first half, Candeto ran for 136 yards and three touchdowns, including a 56-yard score in the second quarter. It was the longest touchdown for Navy since Raheem Lambert scored on a 61-yard run against Rutgers Nov. 6, 1999.
"I take a hat off to Navy," said SMU coach Phil Bennett. "They execute the option very well and they did that tonight. ... Football is a game of turnovers. We had five and they didn't have any and that was the difference."
Candeto (153 yards rushing on 15 carries), who started in losses to Temple and Georgia Tech last season, burned SMU with his arm as well. He connected with Eric Roberts on a 69-yard pass in the second quarter - which led to a score - and kept the Mustangs' defense guessing most of the night.
Roberts rushed for 72 yards and two scores and caught three passes for 96 yards.
"Eric is just a great athlete," Candeto said. "I underthrew him a little bit on that long pass, but he adjusted to the ball and made a great play."
The Mids' defense and special teams were also a huge factor. Atrocious in those areas last season, Navy turned them into a strength against SMU. The Mids held SMU's vaunted running game in check, giving up 182 yards on the ground and 144 through the air. More importantly, once Navy got the lead, the Mids didn't give up a big play that would allow SMU a chance to get back in the game.
Navy did get burned once on special teams, on a 43-yard punt return by junior Jonas Rutledge after the Mids' first possession, and it proved to be costly. Nine plays later, SMU freshman quarterback Tate Wallis found tight end John Hampton open in the end zone for a 13-yard score, and the Mustangs strutted off the field with a 7-0 lead.
But Rutledge's glory would be short-lived. On the next Navy possession, he muffed a punt by John Skaggs, and Navy cornerback Shalimar Brazier recovered at the SMU 29-yard-line. Two plays later, Roberts scampered into the end zone from 9 yards out. .
Rutledge, however, wasn't done giving the Mids gifts. On the ensuing kickoff, he got nailed by linebacker Bobby McClarin and coughed up the ball again. Mids safety Josh Smith recovered the fumble at the SMU 24-yard line, and six plays later Candeto gave Navy a 14-7 lead with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Candeto took over in the second quarter. After Navy's defense stopped the Mustangs in the red zone with Kevin Schwind's interception, Candeto broke off a 38-yard run to midfield. Two plays later, Candeto sprinted around the left side of the line on an option and didn't stop until he hit the end zone 56 yards later.
He wasn't done. On Navy's next possession, Candeto tossed a 69-yard pass to Roberts over the middle, and then capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 28-7.
"Maybe now people other than those in our locker room will start believing in us," Candeto said.
Navy 14 14 7 3 - 38
SMU 7 0 0 0 - 7
First quarter SMU-Hampton 13 pass from Wallis (McMurtray kick), 8:10. Navy-Roberts 9 run (Rolfs kick), 6:20. Navy-Candeto 2 run (Rolfs kick), 4:18. Second quarter Navy-Candeto 56 run (Rolfs kick), 10:04. Navy-Candeto 1 run (Rolfs kick), 4:40. Third quarter Navy-Roberts 1 run (Rolfs kick), 6:02. Fourth quarter Navy-FG Rolfs 30, 5:57. A-25,474.
First downs 18 20
Rushes-yards 54-293 45-182
Passing 106 144
Comp-Att-Int 4-9-0 12-31-2
Return Yards 14 59
Punts-Avg. 5-43 3-35
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-3
Penalties-Yards 5-30 4-51
Time of Possession 28:59 31:01 Rushing-Navy, Candeto 15-153, Roberts 9-72, Eckel 23-35, Lane 4-32, Polanco 2-2, Harris 1-(minus 1). SMU, Kincade 20-101, Charles 11-41, Wallis 13-39, Brown 1-1. Passing-Navy, Candeto 4-9-0 106. SMU, Wallis 12-31-2 144. Receiving-Navy, Roberts 3-96, Eckel 1-10. SMU, Hampton 3-43, Francis 3-37, Brown 2-20, Kincade 2-18, Vinson 1-20, Taylor 1-6.
Next for Navy
Opponent:No. 25 North Carolina State
Site:Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis
Yesterday: Beat East Tennessee State, 34-0