Two Scott Morrison field goals and a bruising stinging defense were all Virginia needed today to deal Navy a 6-3 loss before 35,174 in the season opener for both teams at Scott Stadium.
The line play was ferocious all afternoon and the game was held up on several occasions to assist an injured player.
Tommy Vigorito, who massed 1,044 yards last season, got off to a good start. The senior tailback picked up 125 yards on 33 carries and was the man the Cavs went to when they needed crucial yards. Some fine running by Vigorito during a nine-play drive put Virginia in position for Morrison's winning field goal, a 46-yard kick late in the third quarter.
"This is the first time we've run the I-formation against anyone but ourselves, but we were pretty successful," Vigorito said. "We hope to be more wide open in the future."
After Vigorito's slick six-yard reception of a Todd Kirtley swing pass over the middle brought up a fourth-and-four at the Navy 29, Virginia looked to Morrison. The sophomore nailed a 46-yard field goal to put the Cavs ahead, 6-3, with 1:02 left in the third period.
"I feel like I can hit them from 63 yards if I got the chance," said Morrison, who hit eight of his last 10 field goals last year. "My confidence is there and I can be pretty consistent on the long ones."
Navy had no reason to believe it couldn't get even. The Mid running game managed only 11 yards in the first half.They began to get slightly untracked in the second half and Fred Reitzel, who was dealt with harshly by the head-hunting Cavalier front line, connected on a few passes.
The Mids botched a golden opportunity when Jeff Shoemake intercepted a Kirtley pass at the Virginia 21 with 13:53 left in the final period. Mike Sherlock picked up a yard before being dropped by 6-foot-2, 259-pound nose guard Mike Budd. Sherlock elected to try the outside route on his next carry and again it was Budd who bounced him for a five-yard loss. Ed Meyers, whose fumble started Virginia on its way toward its winning points, shook off two feeble tackle attempts by Cav defenders and powered his way 15 yards to the 12.
On fourth and one, Reitzel looked as if wanted to run but pulled up and aimed a pass at flanker Greg Papajohn. The ball sailed over everyone's head and went out of bounds. The Cavs had held to end the threat.
"There'll be a lot of second-guessing on that call, I imagine," said Mid Coach George Welsh. "I thought we could get the touchdown. I didn't want a tie. The play was a run first but the Virginia end covered it well and he (Reitzel) had to throw."
Though Reitzel completed only nine of 19 passes for 104 yards, the senior, who had spent the last two years at free safety, was fairly pleased with his performance.
"I feel like I gained a year of experience today," said Reitzel, who also ran seven times for five yards. "On that fourth down play, the guy was well-guarded and the pass had to be right on the money. The pressure was on me and I had to get rid of the ball."
The Mids wanted another chance. The defense held Vigorito and Co. in check on the next two series and Navy got the ball both times at its own 43. A Reitzel pass to tight end Curt Gainer was good for 11 yards and a halfback option pass from Sherlock to Gainer covered 16 yards and advanced Navy to Virginia's 22.
But on a first down play, Sherlock ran into rangy linebacker Bryan Holoman at the line of scrimmage and the ball popped loose. It rolled free until Virginia tackle Dave Sullivan draped his 6-foot-8, 278-pound mass over the ball at the Virginia 12.
Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick had nothing but praise for his defense saying "It's nice to know Virginia has gotten to the point where it can win with its defense."
Virginia's defense was called upon one last time when Navy got the ball at its 43 with just over three minutes to play.Reitzel kept the drive alive when he spotted Dave Dent roaming around loose in the Cav secondary and hit him for a 19-yard gain to the Virginia 36.
Sherlock was hit for no gain and on second down Reitzel's pass attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Bert Krupp intercepted at the 36. UVA had only to run out the final 1:51 to register its first victory over Navy since a 24-0 shutout in 1968.
"I thought we ran the ball well when we lined up properly," said Bestwick "We had a lot of missed assignments and only a few drives. I don't know how long our longest one was but it couldn't have been very long."
The longest drive Virginia had in the second half (29 yards) was the one that sank the Mids. With Vigorito wedging out some vital yards and Kirtley hitting his tailback twice on short passes, the Cavs moved to the Navy 29. Morrison then did his number and Virginia led, 6-3, with 1:02 to play in the third period.
Navy got its share of chances in the second half but couldn't do anything with them.
"We thought we controlled the game in the second half," Welsh said. "But if you can't score, you can't win. We had enough offense to win. But we didn't hold onto the ball. We have veteran backs so we have no excuses.
"Virginia is a good team and you can't make mistakes against them and expect to win."
Meyers led Navy with 48 yards on 10 carries while Sherlock managed 43 on 11 tries. Dent caught four passes for 46 yards and Gainer had three receptions for 42 yards. Kirtley had a rough afternoon, hitting only six of 16 passes for 35 yards.
The Mids, who are short on experienced linemen, may have lost defensive tackle Steve Chambers indefinitely. The senior went down with a knee injury and had to be helped off the field in the third quarter.