Few football coaches exceed their promises. Even fewer surpass their own secret hopes.

Six years ago, when he boarded ship, George Welsh never said Navy would go to a bowl game. Even in his own mind he never anticipated his plucky Mids would win one.

Coming from behind to score 20 straight points and beat Brigham Young, 23-16, in the Holiday Bowl Friday night before a sellot crows and a 100-station TV hookup-that was not even in the battle plan.

As midnight approached here Friday night before a sellout crowd and a 100-station TV hookup-that was not even in the battle plan.

"Congratulations. . . great victory. . . wonderful comeback. . . Merry Christmas. . . Oh, yes, happy wedding anniversary, too," said a stream of admirals and commanders, including Adm. Thomas Hayward, the chief of naval operations, as they searched out the coach.

Welsh looked slightly amused, slightly delighted, distinctly contained. He knew no midnight witchcraft could turn this accomplishment into a pumpkin.

"Not many people thought this could be done," he said. "In fact, a lot of people at Navy never thought it would happen again . . . seeing us in a bowl. . . winning.

"This was the most important Navy victory in a long while," Welsh said of the academy's first postseason triumph in 20 years.

This was not just another Army game," he said, risking a few coronaries among the old brass. "And it wasn't just a good midseason win, like beating Pitt.

"We traveled 3,000 miles. We had a great time in a beautiful city . . ."

Then Welsh paused.

"This was our reward game, but we didn't just show up like a lot of teams do. Even though none of our players had ever been through anything like this before, we played to win. When we got behind . . . well, I think we finally got a little angry.

"I told 'em at halftime, 'This team has never come from behind. Everytime we've fallen behind, we've lost.'"

Many football games lack plot. Navy made sure the inaugural Holiday Bowl had all the drama and structure of a tight five-act play.

The introductory act was 17 minutes of pure boredom, a standoff of inepititude. The Mids killed Phil McConkey's touchdown catch of 39 yards with a holding penalty, while BYU's offense sputtered so badly that quarterback Marc Wilson was yanked despite the Cougars' 3-0 lead.

The game, the crowd and both offenses awoke in the second quarter.

Navy drove for a tying field goal; BYU answered with a new quarterback, Jim McMahon, who called his own number-passing or running-on all nine plays of an 84-yard touchdown drive. Navy rebutted - sort of - by marching 64 yards before stalling on a fourth-down gamble at the one-yard line just befor intermission.

Act III, which began the second half, looked like a final curtain for Navy as BYU went ahead, 16-3.

"I don't really know what got us going at that point," Welsh said. "We finally started showing emotion." Weveral Navy players said their opponents started mouthing off when they got ahead.

In the next 20 minutes, Navy mounted four consecutive scoring drives for 20 points. During that period, Navy gained 247 yards, BYU minus three. McConkey accounted for 126 yards on two reverses and three catches.

But Mike Sherlock fumbled at BYU**'S 24 WITH 3:59 LEFT AFTER STUMBLING FOR A FIRST DOWN.

"I HAD A SINKING FEELING," WELSH SAID. "BYU's just the type (passing) team to punish you for that kind of mistake."

BYU crossed midfield. On a desperate fourth-down Cougar pass Navy intercepted, only to be called for roughing the passer.

"Boy, I really had the sinking feeling then," Welsh said, remembering BYU's first down at Navy's 34-yard line.

However, Navy's stern defense was not seventh in the nation for nothing. Three times star end Charlie (Thunder) Thorntion smacked McMahon, twice for losses. Finally, linebacker Mark Stephens intercepted for real and Navy could being its celebration.