Their hands and feet were freezing and their hearts nearly stopped, but Army's Cadets, for the first time in five years, beat Navy, 17-14, today.
When an option pass by tailback Joe Gattuso bounced off Phil McConkey's fingertips in the Army end zone with a minute left, the Cadets were assured victory.
But the Mids did not yield easily, driving from their own 36 with only three minutes left on a march that included two fourth-down completions to McConkey from quarterback Bob Leszczynski.
After Leszezynski passed incomplete twice from the 17, Gattuso gained eight yards on a draw play. He was tripped up by Army linebacker John Hilliard, setting up the final play.
Navy inserted two tight ends to mask their intentions, then went for everything instead of the first down. They wound up with nothing.
The first two passes thrown by Navy quarterback Bob Leszczynski wound up in the hands of Army's sophomore right linebacker, John Hilliard. The thefts, Hilliard's fourth and fifth of the season, set up 10 Army points as the Cadets built a 17-7 half-time lead.
A 38-yard run straight up the middle by tailback Joe Gattuso, to the Army 31, gave the favored Mids an early scoring opportunity. The Cadets shut down the Navy offense there, however, and a 47-yard field-goal attempt by Bob Tata barely reached the end zone.
Army drove from its 20 to the Navy 10, where some poor play selection helped the Mids. On third and one, halfback Jim Merriken tried to sweep left end and was dumped for a two yard loss by Thunder Thornton, Mike Castelli then missed to the left on a 29-yard field-goal try.
After three running plays created a first down at the Navy 31, Leszczynski threw his first pass. It was a shortie to fullback Larry Klawinski and Army's safety, Ed Clemons, was in the way. When Klawinski crashed into Clemons almost simultaneously with the ball, it popped loose and forward. Hilliard grabbed it in the air at the 34 and ran it back to the 15.
Army covered the first 13 yards in one smash up the middle by halfback Greg King. The remaining two yards required three plays, with quarterback Leamon Hall barely making it from a foot away. Castelli's extra point made it 7-0 with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
Before the period had ended, Army got the ball back. Leszazynski, passing from his own 32, was apparently trying to hit Gattuso when his second attempt of the day found the same destination as the first, linebacker Hilliard, at the Navy 43.
The Cadets ground out yardage to the Navy four, with Hall throwing only one pass, a seven-yarder to Merriken, for the longest gain of the drive. On third down from the four, Hall was pressured by A. B. Miller and Otto Bulich and wound up dumping the ball out of the end zone. Castelli then booted a 21-yard field goal for a 10-0 margin.
A diving catch in the end zone by wingback John Kurowski, on Leszczynski's third completion of a 75-yard drive, brought Navy back into contention at 10-7.
The Mids received a break after Gattuso fumbled a pitchout at his own 26 and kicked the ball forward. Right guard Rick Bott recovered for a Navy first down at the 36.
Leszczynski connected on two pinpoint passes to split and Phil McConkey, the first for 19 yards and the second for 22. On fourth and five at the Army 18, Leszczynski received coach George Welsh's command to go for it and Kurowski made the decision look good with a marvelous reception in the right corner of the end zone.
Army was not impressed. The Cadets rambled right back, marching 80 yards in 14 plays, and King made it 17-7 by slipping a yard through right tackle just 69 seconds before halftime.
Hall threw only three times during the drive, completing two and drawing an interference call on the third.
A toss to third-string wide receiver Bill Skoda, who pulled it in despite John Sturges' close intention, accounted for 15 yards. Merriken picked up 17 more on a dash around left end.
A second-down play from the eight resulted in the game's first penalty, an interference ruling against Navy linebacker Nick Mygas on wide receiver Ward Whyte in the end zone.
That created an automatic first-down at the one, but it took three plays for the Cadets to capitalize on it.
Navy stalled at Army's 38 following the second-half kickoff and Art Ohanian's punt rolled dead at the Army seven. When the Cadets kicked back Mike Galpin raced 26 yards down the right sideline to the Army 29.
Gattuso carried four of the seven played Navy needed to reach the end zone. He carried the last two yards around left end with 4:19 remaining in the third quarter.
A key play, on fourth and three from the 22, gave Leszczynski fake to workhorse Gattuso and pitted Kurowski, who swept the right side and raced to the four.
Whyte slipped on his next punt and kicked the ball only 22 yards to the Army 43. Navy seemed headed for a go-ahead score after Leszczynski avoided two Army tackles and ran seven yards to a first down at the 30.
On third and three at the 23, however, Leszczynski made an ill-advised pitch to Gattuso, who was closely guarded by Hilliard. The ball rolled loose and Clemons recovered at the Army 26.