Tailback Joe Gattuso rambled for 250 yards today as Navy avenged a 1976 disaster by walloping William and Mary, 42-17.
Gattuso rushed at Will - and Mary, too - in a 29-carry performance that swooped within 27 yards of Sneed Schmidt's 1935 academy record. Gattuso scored two touchdowns, passed for a third and made three receptions before departing with 6 1/2 minutes to play.
Navy coach George Welsh was aware of record potential, but he elected to pass it up on humanitarian grounds and Gattuso had no quarrel, saying, "I don't know the academy record and it doesn't concern me."
Before he discussed his performance with the press the unusually modest 5-foot-11. 184-pound senior accepted his father's congratulations and signed autographs for a group of Little Brothers in the crowd of 22.026.
When he did talk. Gattuso began by crediting the offensive line and named them all, starting with tight ends Richard Cellon and Carl Hendershot. Earlier, receiving the game ball in the locker room, Gattuso made a similar recital but his omission of the tight ends was noted by Welsh.
In truth. Gattuso was running through some gigantic holes and Welsh said. "There was lots of room for him most of the day. He was in the secondary so much, somebody had to be blocking somebody."
One of the key blockers was fullback Larry Klawinski, who sat out much of the second period after being struck by a helmet so hard in the arm that he couldn't lift it.
"He's tough as nails." Gattuso said. "He came out for the second half anyway and with a guy like that in front of you, you can't help but move."
Navy moved from the opening whistle, building a 21.3 halftime lead by outgaining the Indians, 249.55. Gattuso piled up 108 yards in 16 carries and quarterback Bob leszeznski, assured of lots of time simply by faking to Gattuso, completed all five of his passes.
After a 31-yard miss ended Mid Bob Tata's string of nine successful field goals. Navy drove 56 yards in 12 plays, with leszczynski going the final yard on a fourth-down keeper. Navy was helped by a William and Mary lineman who punched a blocker on a third-down incomplete pass at the Indians' 24.
The Indians were still without a first down when Gattuso raced 30 yards up the middle, aided mightily by Cellon's down field block to make it 14-0 at 2:09 of the second period. At that stage, Gattuso had 104 yards.
Leszczynski, unloading with one defender hanging on his shoulder and two others prepared to crucify him, hit Hendershot with a five-yard, fourth-down pass for a 21-3 margin. A 62-yard completion from Leszcznski to Phil McConkey set it up.
Navy was impeded slightly when Tata's 50-yard field-goal try, which would have been a Navy record, on the final play of the half struck the crossbar and fell back. Then the Indians pulled within 21-10 on a 65-yard pass from quarterback Tom Rozantz to flanker Joe Manderfield, a junior from Woodbridge. Va.
That merely redirected the Mids' attention. Leszcznski fired a 38-yard scoring pass to McConkey, Gattuso hit McConkey with a 20-yarder on a fourth-and-two surprise, and Gattuso rammed over from the three following a William and Mary fumble.
In between. Gattuso raced 55 yards to the Indians' five only to fumble into the end zone for a touchback.
"What a stupid play that was fumbling the ball like a dummy," Gattuso said.
Nobody, however, was complaining.
Gattuso's father, hero of Navy's 1955 Sugar Bowl victory over Mississippi, called his son's achievements today "even bigger than the Army game" a year ago, when young Joe scored three touchdowns.
"He has deceiving quickness," said Welsh. "He's an outstanding inside runner, from tackle to tackle. He hits the hole at the right time, and with surprising power. I've said it before. I think the kid's a better football player than his father."
Certainly, the elder Joe Gattuso never had a day like this, recalling his best as "160 or 170 yards." Navv immortal Joe Bellino, also in attendance on this homecoming day, hit a peak of 198 against Virginia in 1960. Gattuso, with 820 yards in seven games, is a serious threat to Cleveland Cooper's one-season academy record of 1,046.
Perhaps the finest tribute to Gattuso came from William and Mary defensive end Rolfe Carawan, the closest Indian when Gattuso threw the scoring pass.
"He came up to me and said. 'Keep going. God be with you.'" Gattuso said. "I just said, 'God be with you.'"