Once upon a time, en route to a 6-0 record, Navy boasted the No. 1 defense in the country. Injuries, overwork and a rise in the caliber of opposition have altered that ranking and today Georgia Tech amassed 503 yards while reducing the Mids' record to 6-4 with a 24-14 defeat.
Sophomore quarterback Mike Kelley threw three long touchdown passes to Kris Kentera for the decisive points as the Mids' secondary could not handle the sophomore split end one on one. Kentera's 203 yards on six catches set a school record.
Kelley, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 361 yards, became Tech's one-season passing record holder in completions (134), attempts (269) and yards gained (1,876). He also set a one-game total-offense mark of 376 yards.
"That's as good a passing team and as good a quarterback as we've played all year," said Navy Coach George Welsh. "I wonder why they were 3-5 with that kind of offense. We played zone and they cut our zone up. We blitzed and tried man coverage and they still beat us."
The Mids rolled up 375 yards themselves, with sophomore tailback Eddie Meyers grinding out 183 on 26 carries. Quarterback Bob Powers, who hit Curt Gainer for a 43-yard touchdown on his first pass, wound up hitting nine of 24 passes for 170 yards.
"We had a lot of offense for 14 points," Welsh said. "We made a lot of mistakes. We were sacked too much, too. We had to pass too much for us. We aren't used to that."
Meyers, the fourth-string tailback who was elevated to No. 1 by injuries, hit the holes with the instincts of a veteran runner. He scored Navy's second touchdown from a yard out, collected 108 yards in the first half and probably would have topped 200 if the Mids had not been forced to the air in a vain bid to catch up.
"One thing the coach corrected this week, the tailback was up too close," Meyers said. "He told me to make sure I was two yards behind the fullback so I could read better. I was farther back and as I got up to the hole it was much easier to read the blocks. It made everything easier for me."
"Meyers is playing awfully well," Welsh said. "He's come a long way in a few weeks. He can become a great back. He's quick, strong and tough."
Navy drove 79 yards in nine plays to score following the opening kickoff and the exciting way it sailed down the field had to have pumped up officials of the three bowls -- the Tangerine, Hall of Fame and Gator -- still interested in the pregame Mids.
Powers, on fourth and one at his 42, circled left end behind Larry Klawinski's block for a six-yard gain. Then, on second and one at the Tech 43, Powers hit a wide-open Gainer down the middle, Gainer dragging defender Lawrence Lowe the last five yards to score.
It took Tech two plays to get even, the first of which gained nothing. Kelly and Kentera combined on a 57-yard scoring play, Kentera grabbing on a 57-yard scoring play, Kentera grabbing the ball at the Navy 25 while strong safety Fred Reitzel trailed hopelessly behind.
Tech marched 66 yards in five plays for a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Tight end George Moore made a superb leaping catch of a Kelley pass for 22 yards before Kelley and Kentera ate up the last 40.
Kelly, belted hard by tackle Steve Chambers on the previous play, fired the ball down the right sideline and Kentera took it a step behind cornerback Charlie Meyers, then fell over the end-zone marker.
Meyer chewed up 41 of the 65 yards Navy covered to create a 14-14 tie. He picked up 22 by tearing loose from defender Mark Sheffield just past the line of scrimmage, then barreled the last yard to score.
A 32-yard field goal by Johnny Smith, his only success in four tries, enabled Tech to carry a 17-14 lead into the locker room.
Tech did not have a turnover all afternoon, was not penalized until the final four minutes. And twice on the drive to the field goal it enjoyed remarkable good fortune.
On a second-and-10 play at the Navy 41, Kelley faked twice before tossing a screen pass to fullback Bo Thomas for seven yards. Tech's offensive linemen moved with the first fake and one was at least eight yards down field, but there was no penalty.
On the next day, Kelley dropped the ball but picked it up and circled end for 15 yards and a first down at the 19. It was the second of three Yellow Jacket fumbles and Tech retained possession on all.
The third occurred on a Navy punt early in the third period. Gary Lanier bobbled the ball at the Tech 25 and Ken Taylor made the recovery at the 34. Tech then drove 66 yards in four plays for the game's final score.
Once again, it was a Kelley-Kentera operation, this time for 57 yards. Kelley pass nestled into Kentera's arms at the Navy 32 and he was unchallenged after Reitzel dived and missed him there.
"They had great timing on their passing game," Reitzel said. "They beat me a couple of times -- what else can I say? Their patterns were well-disciplined and well-timed."
On its next possession, Navy overcame a clipping penalty with two 15-yard completions and drove to the Tech 39, until a holding penalty and a 16-yard sack of Powers eventually forced a punt on fourth and 34.
The next time, the Mids marched from their 11 to a first down at the Tech 22. An attempted tight-end reverse was fumbled by Gainer, however, and after the ball was accidentally kicked, Powers recovered it back at the 45. On fourth and 33, Navy punted once again.
The clock forced the Mids to the air on their next two possessions, and each time Tech defenders came up with interceptions.
Its bowl hopes dead, Navy has only the Army game in which to recoup what a month ago seemed destined to be a great season. After that contest, it could be looking for a head coach.
Welsh, reported to be a finalist for the vacant coaching job at Louisiana State, said, "I have no comment on that for now. We've got to play an Army game and these things start swirling around and distract you. Maybe after that game, I'll have something to say."