Early last week, a Navy coach told his defensive players they have been derogated by the Pitt quarterback, Rick Trocano. "Trocano said our stats were impressive, sure, but he said we hadn't played anybody," said John Merrill, a tall building who doubles as a Navy defensive tackle.
Merrill smiled in the telling. "That got us fired up," he said a minute after Navzy beat Pitt, 21-11, yesterday. Chances are the victory will move undefeated Navy into the Top 10 in the polls, and it is certain no one else will insult the Navy defenders.
En route to a 5-1 won-lost record, Pitt had averaged 20 points a game and 334 yards, 200 by rushing.
Against Merrill and his scorned playmates, Pitt was a negative force. It has minus-17 yards rushing. Trocano, a good scrambler, was thrown for 49 yards in losses. Trocano threw 51 passes, completing 25 for 275 yards.
Navy couldn't have asked for anything better.
"They've been running on everybody," said Merrill, a 6-foot-6, 248-pound junior. "So we wanted to shut that down and make them pass. And our secondary did an excellent job."
"The defensive line did not excellent job this week," said safety Fred Reitzel, who intercepted a Trocano pass and broke up four others. "If we cover the receivers well enough, it gives the linemen time to get to the quarterback. And if they hurry the quarterback, it helps us."
Ranked No. 1 in the country according to those statistics that Trocano dismissed so lightly, Navy's defensive unit established control of yesterday's game early.
Four times in the first quarter, Pitt was in Navy territory; six times in the first half, 11 times in the game. Only twice did the Panthers profit by the experience, and in the early part of the first quarter they failed miserably, perhaps fatally.
Pitt reached Navy's 25-, 23- and 22- yard lines in the first quarter. It is not score.
"We took their momentum away," said Merrill. "You could fell that electricity flowing."
"That knocked them down pschologically," said Reitzel, the safetyman.
Navy's season defensive statistic already amazing, took a turn toward incredible.
In seven games, Navy's foes have rushed for 399 yards, only 57 a game (aginst Navy's 218 a game). Each time a navy opponent runs the ball, he gains 1.5 yards, which hardly seems worth the inevitably punishment dealt out by the likes of end Charlie Thornton (a team-high 10 tackles yesterday).
"Every game people have been saying 'Wait until Pitt and we'll see if Navy's for real,'" Thornton said after the destruction yesterday. "I was tired of people saying it. This game will give people the idea Navy is pretty good."
"We eliminated some more doubts," Merrill said of assorted Navy-doubters around America.
But if America is surprised by the Midshipmen, it is not alone. The Navy coach, George Welsh, said, "It has to be a surprise that the defense is holding up like that. We're relatively young and haven't been in an important game like this before. They're just hustling."
Next Saturday comes Norte Dame which has beaten Navy 14 straight years. They'll play this time in Cleveland and, Merrill said, the outcome will be different.
"The Air Force coach (whose team lost to both Navy and Notre Dame) called our coach and said we were better than Notre dame," Merrill said, adding firmly, "We're going to beat them, too."
Welsh denied any such phone call from Air Force Coach Bill Parcells. "That's just a rumor," he said with a smile. This coach knows better than to insult next week's opponent.