The west wind was so strong today that Navy's Roland Ellis split the uprights, 70 yards away, with a kickoff. The biggest breeze in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, however, was created by the collective sigh of relief that escaped the mouths of Navy partisans after Glenn Flanagan's pass interception on the final play.
That theft, at the Navy one-yard line, assured a 20-16 victory over Georgia Tech, brought the Mids' record to 5-5 and provided a modicum of momentum entering two weeks of preparation for Army.
Things had turned grim 97 seconds earlier, when Georgia Tech assumed possession 80 yards from a winning season. In three running plays and 40 seconds, the Yellow Jackets rambled 60 of those yards and disaster seemed close for the home side.
There more runs ate up 10 yards, for another first down, but they also gobbled up most of the remaining time. So, with 18 seconds left, quarterback Gary Hardie followed President Carter's traffic-beating example and went to the air.
Charlie (Thunder) Thornton, sophomore defensive end who had been burned on a 21-yard quarterback keeper earlier in the drive. broke through and sacked Hardie for a sixyard loss. Tech's last timeout left four seconds for another chance, but Flanagan cut in front of split end Joha Steele for the game-saving grab.
In dropping Tech to 500 status, Navy owned the ball for 40 minutes 7 seconds to the Yellow Jackets' 1953. The third quarter was both ridiculous and important. Navy, although limited to three points, held the ball 13:26 and Tech, with the 15-20 mile-per-hour wind at its back, could get off only five plays.
Tailback Joe Gattuso was the principal instrument in Navy's ball control. He carried 30 times, an academy record, and gained 147 yards. In the process, he twice shattered Navy's single-season rushing mark, boosting his total to 1,167 in 10 games. Cleveland Cooper had set the record of 1,046 in 1972.
Gattuso passed Cooper on his fourth carry, was thrown for a loss, then sped past again on his seventh attempt. He also broke three all-purpose running records for a momentous effort that he minimized by saying, "The score is what counts and anyway it was the line that did the
Navy struck first, marching 57 yards to the Tech two before Gattuso was swarmed over on a late pitch and Bob Tata reaped three consolation points with a 22-yard field goal.
Tech moved 80 yards in three plays for a 7-3 lead. Hardie covered the first 54 around right end and fullback Rodney Lee rumbled the last 23. Lee fumbled as he crossed the goal line. Navy's Thornton recovered and one official signaled touchback, but Lee was over before being separated from the ball.
Quarterback Bob Leszczynski's three-yard keeper, on which he seemingly froze defensive end Freeman Colbert with a stare, completed an 80 yard, 13-play Navy drive for a 10-7 advantage.
Navy failed to capitalize on Thornton's fumble recovery at the Tech 27. But the Mids drove 69 yards in 14 plays for a 17-7 lead, wingback John Kurowski covering the last yard on a counter play.
Gattuso raced 43 yards for an apparent score during the dirve. Howere, Jim Lippard was detected clipping at the Tech 15 after Gattuso passed him by and Navy needed eight more plays to change the numbers.
Tech's blizkreig consumed 65 yard in four plays to make it 17-13 just before intermission. A swing pass from Hardie to halfback Eddie Lee Ivery, aided by Lee's crushing block, took care of the last 51 yards.
Tata, whose 32-year field-goal attempt into the wind struck the right upright, recouped following Mike Galpin's recovery of a Lee fumble at the Tech 27. Tata hit from 23 yard and it was 20-13.
Thornton's sack of Hardie for a six yard loss broke up a long Tech drive and forced Johnny Smith to boot a 27-yarder for the game's final three points. After that, it was mostly nail-biting.
"We bent a bit," said Thornton, "but we didn't break. That wishbone puts a big assignment on the ends. I'm glad the load is over."
Thornton had six primary tackles, including four sacks, and two assists, while opposite number Ed Reid registered a fifth sack among seven unasisted tackles.
"They call him Thunder but he's really lightning," laughed defensive tackle Reg Trass from the adjacent cubicle.
The Mids' defensive troops, so badly mauled the two previous weeks, were enjoying themselves. It was a moment of victory - and relief.