Sophomore Eddie Meyers rushed for a Navy record 279 yards on 43 carries and scored three touchdowns today and on into the evening as he and his fellow Midshipmen ran roughshod over hapless Army, 31-7.
A throng of 77,052 at John F. Kennedy Stadium, and a national television audience, saw Navy pile up 418 yards and 23 first downs while limiting the injury-riddled Cadets to 143 yards from scrimmage.
"That was by far the best overall game we've played this year," said senior defensive end Charlie (Thunder) Thornton of the 7-4 Mids. "We were coming off four disappointing losses and we wanted to win one we can remember."
Navy and Meyers will long remember this victory that evened the Army-Navy series at 37-37-6. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound New Jerseyan, who began the season as the third-string fullback and fourth-string tailback, followed his blocking perfectly.
Running out of the I formation, Meyers rushed 84 yards in the first quarter as the Mids jumped to a 10-0 lead. Meyers did the heavy work for Navy, which moved at will the first three times it touched the ball.
Navy came up empty on its first drive when Dave Guin missed a 33-yard field-goal attempt. On its second drive, Coach George Welsh switched kickers and Steve Fehr gave Navy a 3-0 lead on a 36-yard field goal with 5:02 left in the first quarter.
That was only the beginning. Army quarterback T. D. Decker, who had taken only one snap from center in three varsity seasons, had his first pass intercepted, by Navy linebacker Mike Kronzer, at the Army 42. He returned the ball seven yards and Navy went to work.
Meyers lugged the ball four times to get the ball to the 12. Bob Powers hit reserve flanker Troy Mitchell at the five, and Mitchell ran out of the arms of cornerback Dave Charest into the end zone with 2:48 left in the quarter.
The rest of the game was Meyer's showcase. He nearly broke away several times on end sweeps as the Mids went 84 yards to score again. Meyers, totaling 132 yards in the first half, capped the drive with a one-yard burst for the touchdown.
"We didn't get much of a chance to do much in the first half because we found ourselves inside our 20-yard line all the time," said Army Coach Lou Saban. "Then all of a sudden it was 17-0 and what we wanted to get done we couldn't because of the score."
Army never had a chance. Decker, who Saban said was not a good passer, was even less effective as a runner. Thornton and company swallowed up the inexperienced junior and never allowed the Cadets breathing room in Saban's first coaching shot against Navy.
Army's only points came after Duane Flowers, in for Meyers, fumbled a handoff at his 16. Army recovered, and on its third running play, scored its first touchdown in 12 quarters. Bobby Crumpton scooted eight yards for the six points.
Dave Aucoin's kick made it 17-7 at intermission.
"We were a little mad about that TD," said Thornton. "They shouldn't have scored."
So, disturbed Navy came out burning in the third period. Meyers picked up where he left off, easily dashing past slower Cadet defenders for huge chunks of yardage.
A 47-yard kickoff return by Steve Callahan gave Navy excellent position at the start of the quarter and it was only a matter of minutes before the Mids had regained control of the game. Meyers lugged the ball six times in the brief drive, scoring on an end sweep from five yards out.
Fehr's kick made it 24-7 with 10:21 left in the quarter.
"Eddie just read the blocks well and picked his holes," said Navy offensive tackle John Taylor. "He went to either side with good success. Army's defense was quick and tried a lot of stunts but we picked them up and opened the holes. We didn't have any breakdowns out there."
"Everything just clicked out there," said Powers, who completed six of 15 passes for 85 yards.
Powers' favorite receiver was Callahan, who was switched to wide receiver after Meyers took charge several games ago in the wake of injuries to tailbacks Mike Sherlock, Callahan and Flowers. Callahan caught three passes for 40 yards, two of them keeping drives alive.
"We wanted to use Callahan because of his speed," Welsh remarked. "Powers did a good job. He called a lot of audibles and mixed up the plays well. Callahan is a good receiver. Instead of letting him be a second-string tailback, we decided to use him as a receiver."
Powers didn't need to throw much the way Meyers was amassing yardage, closing in on the academy's single-game records for most carries and yardage with his 202-yard total after three quarters.
He ripped off a sparkling 20-yard run during Navy's final scoring drive before wrapping his three-touchdown day with a 31-yard spring for the 31-7 Navy advantage with 7:15 to play.
The word was passed to the Navy bench that Meyers was one carry short of Joe Gattuso's total of 39 against Georgia Tech in 1977 and eight yards shy of Sneed Schmidt's 277-yard total against Columbia in 1939.
"We put him back in to get the record," Welsh acknowledged.
Navy quickly got the ball back and Meyers carried three straight times. His final run was good for four yards and gave him his total of 279.
"I just went out to do my best. I had no way of knowing I was near any record. It's like a dream come true," exulted Meyers, winding up the year as Navy's top rusher. "The coach told us earlier in the week, if we wanted to win the game, we would have to run the ball against them."
Meyers got much of his yardage up the middle where Army's top player, senior nose guard George Mayes, operated. In defense of the 6-5, 255-pound Mayes, he was hobbled with a bad knee.
Army crossed midfield only three times in the game and was never close to scoring except on the 16-yard "drive."
"They tried to blitz us and we ran right by them," Welsh said. "I felt we were ready to play today."
Welsh had been rumored to be one of the top candidates for the Louisiana State coaching job that Bo Rein of North Carolina State landed Friday. Now, Welsh said he was planning to be at Navy again next year.
"I'm not considering a change," he said.