West Point's Corps of Cadets sat chilled and chippy in gold T-shirts bearing the number 12 today. It was supposed to be emblematic of the 12th man who is with the Cadets' football team in spirit, and those thousands of jacket-less future soldiers never stopped screaming.
"I looked over during the game and they were pretty excited," said Navy defensive end Charlie Thornton. "But down on the field they weren't too excited. That's where it counted."
On the field, Navy's offensive line blew huge holes in the Cadets defense, the Mids scored on their first two possessions and at the finish the scoreboard read Navy 28, Army 0.
It was a remarkable turnabout by a Navy team that had lost three straight games, failing even to produce a touchdown in its last ordeal, a 38-6 shellacking by Florida State.
"We were down," said quarterback Bob Leszczynski, who set an academy record with his 26th touchdown pass. "The week off helped us. We got some people healthy and we had some super practices. We really weren't into it last week. The key was the way our offensive linemen handled their linemen. They were really making holes."
Navy's defense, No. 1 in the nation when the Mids were 7-0, made its own comeback. Gambling with an eight-man front, the Mids limited Army to 73 yards rushing and forced the Cadets to throw 43 times, with a resulting four interceptions.
The shutout was Navy's fourth of the season, the first time it had achieved that figure since 1955, when Coach George Weluh was Navy's safety, as well as quarterback. The 8-3 season is the Mids' best since 1963 and the victory over Army was Weish's fifth in six years as the Navy coach, the only loss coming a year ago by a 17-14 margin.
"The captains and our team deserve the credit," Welsh said. "We were down and they ducked it up. You really have to give (Nick) Mygas and (Phil) McConkey credit for keeping the players together. I was more worried about his game than any other. You hate to come in this game losing three. Losing can be a habit as well as winning."
Army, which had won three of its last four, figured to be high emotionally, but some of the fire may have died awaiting the coin toss, as the entire Army team came out, hands locked together. The Cadets scemed more suited for a prayer meeting.
Navy won the toss, took the wind and benefited from the first of four end zone kickoffs by Roland Ellis. Linebacker Tom Raulk sacked Army quarterback Earle Mulrane on third down at his 14 and the Cadets were further victimized by a 29-yard punt.
In 10 running plays of varied direction and superb execution, Navy moved 43 yards and was ahead to stay. Leszczynski scored from the three, ducking inside his left end after the intended receiver was held up on a rollout.
Tailback Mike Sherlock, rebounding from a bruised thigh, gained 27 yards in four carries on the scoring drive, the beginning of what was to become a 105-yard afternoon his career high.
There was a nifty bit of play-calling on third and seven from the Army 30, as fullback Kevin Tolbert dashed eight yards on a draw play.
After another of Ellis' unreturnable kickoffs, Army became mired again. Freshman halfback Rob Heather of Springfield, Va., was nailed for an eight-yard loss by Paulk and tackle Steve Chambers after taking an unwise pitchout from Mulrane. So Army punted again, and 56 yards and 10 Olays later Navy led by 14-0.
Steve Callahan, another returnee from the injury list, broke through right tackle for the final foot. Teszozynski twice went airborne on this march and clicked with a 16-yard pass to tight and Curt Gainer and a nine-yard toss to Sherlock.
Navy frequently made use of three tight ends in grinding out 95 4ushing yards in the first quarter, Carl Hendershot and Matt McLaughlin joining Gainer in some spirited blocking.
"That was designed to help our goal-line offense," Welsh said. "We've been getting close and not getting into the end zone. But we had our running game going in the first half. The way we won early i th yar was dfese and we ot back to it."
The Mids boosted their margin to 21-0 with a 48-yard, nine-play march in the second period.Leszczynski covered the final yard on a keeper, after Sherlock ground out 28 yards on the drive.
Navy's final touchdown was the sort of thing that happens to teams that have everything going in their favor. As Bob Tata attempted a 34-yard field goal, snapper Steve Kremer sailed the ball off the hands of holder Leszczynski.
Leszczynski beat Tate to the loose ball, turned and threw to Callahan, completely unguarded at the 10. Callahan sprinted into the end zone while the Cadets hopefully but vainly looked for a Navy lineman upfield. As Leszczynski scrambled, the 5-foot-6, 160-pound Tata wiped out 6-4, 215-pound tackle Bob Groller with a marvelous block.
Said Welsh, joking, "I think Leszcznski let it (the snap) go on purpose. He wanted to throw a touchdown pass."
"The snap was high to the left off my fingertips," Leszczynski said. "I scrambled to the ball and as I picked it up I thought for sure I'd have to run it. But I dodged one man with a fake pump. Tata picked up another and I had time to find Callahan."
"Once a year I have to do it and I like to do it right," said blocker Tata, who last year wiped out Georgia Tech's Lucius Sanford after a fumbled snap. "It adds excitement. I like to get touched once in a while."
Army came closest to a score late in the second period, when it marched 85 yards to the Navy two. On fourth and one, Mulrane surprisingly chose to pass into the end zone, but he was hurried by Thornton and threw too low, halfback Bobby Shields dropping the ball.
"Last year they established the run against us and when they went to the pass they burned us," Thornton said. "Today we shut down the run right from the start."
Army Coach Homer Smith has a dim future, having gained only a one-year contract extension with last year's victory. He would not discuss his situation today, but Athletic Director Raymond Murphy, asked if Smith would return, said, "Probably, but put that in italics."
Welsh's future has also been the subject of speculation, in the other direction, but he won't talk about it until after the Mids play Brigham Young in the Dec. 22 Holiday Bowl.
"Things are getting better," Welsh said today. "I think we restored some pride to our football program."