Placekicker Bob Tata calmly booted a 25-yard field goal with 41 seconds left today to carry a struggling Navy football team to a 10-7 victory over Air-Force.
Until Navy's last possession of the game, it was an afternoon that seemed to be devoted to demonstrating before 30,030 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium how to play bad football. It was a standoff.
Navy, which has thrown the ball exceptionally well virtually all season, had no passing attack today. Quarterback Bob Leszczynski completed only three of nine passes for 39 yards and was intercepted once. Coming into today's game, he had thrown a touchdown pass in eight straight games.
The Mid who carried the offense today was running back Joe Gattuso. He ground out 143 yards on 23 crries and it was his 29-yard run off tackle that set up Tata's field goal.
Navy took possession for its game-winning drive on its 43 with 3:12 left, following an Air Force punt.
Gattuso swept right end for 14 yards, then followed that with his 29-yarder.
That put the ball at the Air Force 14 with just under two minutes to play.
The Mids thinking field goal all the way, ran three more plays in right to keep the ball in the middle of the field, then Navy coach George Welsh pointed his finger at the 5-foot-6, 153-pound Tata.
"Tata is a clutch kicker. I had no worries. He's a money ball player. He just has that type of personality," Welsh said.
Some people may call Tata's type of personality cocky. He likes to call it confidence.
"I should never miss a field goal like that," he said. "What separates the good kickers from the bad kickers is concentration. All I do is kick so it isn't too hard for me to keep my concentration."
In an attempt to unnerve Tata, Air Force called a timeout with 45 seconds left.
"I was glad they called that timeout," Tata said. "I wanted to remind our linemen to hold them out and I wanted to make sure John (holder Kurowski) was going to be steady with the hold."
Tata hit the ball with his semi-soccer swing and it went high and true.
"I was so excited I got up and spiked the tee and ran off the field," Tata said.
Earlier in the game, facing a 10-mile-per-hour wind, Tata told Welsh that 45 yards was too far for him to kick. With the wind at his back in the final period, Tata said he could have been accurate from as far away as 52 yards.
Tata doesn't kick the ball "in true soccer style," as he calls it. He does approach it from the side, but only slightly "and I kick more with my toe," he said. "It's more accurate."
Air Force's only score was a gift from Navy.
Gattuso fumbled the ball away to L. C. Crowe at the Navy 31 and four plays later Dave Ziebart passed six yards to Paul Williams for the score. Terry Harris kicked the extra point.
Navy came right back to score with an 88-yard drive in 13 plays that consumed six minutes of the second period.
Gattuso picked up 45 of the yards on seven carries with fullback Larry Klawinski getting the touchdown on a five-yard plunge. Tata kicked the extra point.
The big play of the drive, just before Klawinski's run, was a 20-yard pass on fourth down from Leszczynski to Phil McConkey.
Air Forces was handed another chance to score when Navy's Steve Callahan fumbled the second-half kickoff.
Air Force took possession at Navy's 22, but couldn't capitalize. The Falcons showed their confusion by lining up in a straight-T formation and running off tackle on fourth and four from the 16. David Thomas ended up fumbling the ball back to Navy.
Navy's offensive ineptitude was never illustrated better than early in the fourth quarter after Charlie Meyers blocked a Scott Schafer punt. Tom Paulk fell on the ball for Navy at the Air Force 19.
On first down, Callahan was thrown for a three-yard loss. On second down, Leszczynski was sacked by Dale Marr for a seven-yard loss. On third down, he was sacked by Dave Scott for a 10-yard loss.
Navy didn't get a single first down in the third period and gained only 71 yards the second half, with 49 of them coming on the drive to the winning field goal.
The victory put the Mids at 3-2 for the season and dropped Air Force to 1-3-1.