Two plays - a 40-yard touchdown run by slotback Shun White on his team's first possession and a 91-yard interception return by cornerback Rashawn King to set up another touchdown - gave a record crowd of 37,970 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium reason to think it would celebrate homecoming yesterday in Annapolis.
One play by Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy took away any chance of that happening.
A 58-yard touchdown run by the sophomore tailback shortly before halftime pushed the No. 23 Panthers to a 21-point lead and eventually to a 42-21 victory over the Midshipmen. It was the fifth straight win for Pittsburgh (5-1) and broke a three-game winning streak for Navy (4-3).
"That was a tough one," Navy linebacker Corey Johnson said of McCoy's touchdown with 1:04 left in the first half that put the Panthers ahead 35-14. "He's a great running back who made a great run and they got the momentum going back into halftime."
McCoy rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries - all of his scores and all but 28 yards and four carries coming in the opening half - while Pittsburgh's defense shut down Navy's offense from its opening drive until the waning moments of the game.
The result was the most lopsided loss for the Midshipmen under first-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
"We got our butts whipped in all facets of the game," Niumatalolo said. "I did a bad job of getting us ready. There weren't any excuses. We had a week [off] to prepare and they had a week [off] to prepare. They came back and played better than we did. That starts with me."
The Panthers gained 499 yards - the most against the Midshipmen this season - and controlled the ball for nearly 20 minutes in the first half. Conversely, Navy had only 251 yards of offense, 63 coming on the opening drive and 54 coming on a meaningless touchdown drive in the final minute.
"Give Pitt credit," Niumatalolo said. "Their two stars played well. We had a hard time blocking [Scott] McKillop and we had a hard time tackling McCoy on defense."
Said White, who gained only 30 yards after his big run: "Our motto during the week was that we had to score every time we had the ball. It seemed that every time we scored, they came right back and scored themselves."
Any thought of yesterday's game turning into a replay of last year's wild shootout in Pittsburgh - won by the Midshipmen, 48-45, in double overtime - ended before halftime. After King's long return set up an 8-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jarod Bryant to cut Navy's deficit to 21-14, Pitt pulled away.
McCoy was basically unstoppable, even turning 2-yard runs into tackling adventures for the Midshipmen. He would likely have had a lot more yards and touchdowns had Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt not removed him in the third quarter.
"That guy is good," said Niumatalolo, who compared McCoy's first visit to Annapolis to when LaDainian Tomlinson came with Texas Christian in 2000. "He's going to be playing on Sundays. Don't be surprised to see him in Honolulu [in the Pro Bowl] in a few years."
Navy's problems followed after a three-week stretch in which the defense had carried the team to victories over Rutgers, Wake Forest and Air Force. The recent performance of the defense had masked the ineffectiveness of an offense playing without injured quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada.
The mask fell off yesterday. Bryant, making his third straight start, fumbled deep in Navy territory in the first quarter, leading to a Pittsburgh touchdown. Though he led the Midshipmen with 90 yards on 21 carries, Bryant was still thinking about his eighth fumble of the season after the game.
"That turnover hurt us pretty bad," said Bryant, who gave way to sophomore Ricky Dobbs late in the game. "We were playing catch-up the whole game. We couldn't sustain anything. That's just how it goes. We were so close to busting one, but we couldn't get it done."
McCoy was close to busting more than a few early in the game.
When he did late in the first half, any reason for the fans to celebrate homecoming quickly left Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
play it again
What went right: : Not much offensively after slotback Shun White's 40-yard touchdown run helped tie the game early. Not much defensively, except linebacker Corey Johnson having 10 tackles and batting down two passes.
What went wrong:: The defense, which had played so well during the team's three-game winning streak, had no answers for LeSean McCoy. The offense couldn't get untracked, and fullback Eric Kettani had only 13 yards on eight carries.
Defining moment: : With his team leading 28-14 late in the first half, McCoy took a handoff on a draw play and raced 58 yards for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach.
What it means: : The offense needs to get Kaipo-Noa Kahekau-Enhada back running the triple option or consider switching from senior Jarod Bryant to sophomore Ricky Dobbs, who led the team to a late score.
Up next: : The Midshipmen play at home against Southern Methodist on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Mustangs were 1-5 going into last night's game against Houston at home, and first-year coach June Jones knows he isn't at Hawaii anymore.
SOUTHERN METHODIST @NAVY
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: CBS College Sports Network
Radio: 1090 AM