The "real" Houston, a preseason favorite in the Southwest Conference, showed up today at Giants Stadium and gave Navy a painful lesson in power football, Texas style.
The fleet-footed Cougars were too big and too strong for the Midshipmen and had no problem earning a 35-0 victory in the third annual Garden State Bowl before a turnstile count of 41,417 (nearly 20,000 no shows).
The Mids (8-4), playing in their eighth bowl in the school's history, never had a chance. The Cougars, sporting a deceiving 6-5 mark after a 35-7 final regular-season loss to Rice, played as if they had something to prove and Navy would have to bear the brunt of their vengeance.
Houston rolled up 405 of its 450 total yards by rushing and had 24 first downs on 85 offensive plays. A tenacious defense -- led by 6-foot-7, 280-pound all-America Leonard Mitchell; 6-4, 265-pound Terry Monroe -- limited the Mid offense to 200 net yards, most of that coming in the second half when Houston Coach Bill Yeoman called off his first unit.
"They made it seem like we didn't belong on the same field with them, said Navy quarterback Fred Reitzel, who completed only five of 12 passing attempts for 42 yards. "They just overpowered us. They're a lot better than 6-5. They've had an up-and-down year but today they were up and we were down."
Houston, which had fumbled away the ball 49 times coming into today's game, was its usual fumbling self. The Cougars fumbled 10 times (two of them out of bounds), but lost only three. Unfortunately, for the Mids, they were quilty of three fumbles and had a punt blocked and Houston scored following each mishap, including after Navy's first and second possessions. Houston led, 28-0, at halftime.
Ed Meyers, who needed only 43 rushing yards to reach the 1,000 yard mark, lasted only three plays today. The junior tailback was smacked hard on his first carry from scrimmage and fumbled, Cougar Kelly McDonald recovering at the Mid 31.
Eight running plays later, Terald Clark, who finished with a season-best 163 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns, scored from a yard out Barefoot kicker Jeff Shaffer, subbing for regular kicker David Humphreys -- who avoided the 35-degree weather and winds whipping up to 15 miles per hour and remained in Houston to study for finals -- hit the extra point and the Cougars were on their way, 7-0, with 4:19 elapsed.
The Mids were unable to move on their next possession, so Lex Lauletta came on to punt. Leo Truss broke through and blocked the kick to give the Cougars possession at the Navy 43. Running mainly behind the crushing blocks of sophomore linemen Leo Fifer and Bobby Grimes, Clark picked up 37 of the yards before quarterback Terry Elston ran around right end for a 14-0 lead with 3:43 to play in the first.
"The Navy defenders were lining up in the gaps and we ran a lot of cutback plays," Fifer said. "Even when they lined up nose to nose, we whipped them."
Navy got an early break when a Lauletta punt hit the leg of returner Larry Curry. But Houston stopped the Mids at the 10. Steve Fehr, who had kicked 10 field goals in Navy's last three games, then missed a 27-yard attempt.
On that series, Meyers was hammered by Mitchell and linebacker Steve Bradham and left the game with a torn cartilage in his rib. He finished with only 13 yards.
After a Navy drive sputtered at the Houston 31, Elston led a long march to a 20-0 advantage with 7:51 left in the half. The big play in the seven-play possession was Elston's 30-yard completion to Hubert Miller. David Barrett scored on an 18-yard run after blocks from Fifer and Grimes.
"Fifer is a good tackle," said Mid defensive tackle Steve Chambers. "I had trouble with him. It's like a two-headed snake. They were big and quick, if one didn't get you, the other did. You could've driven a truck through a couple of those holes."
Navy was having problems doing anything. Without Meyers and superb offensive lineman Frank McCallister (a senior ruled ineligible by the NCAA because he attended North Carolina for one year), the running game produced little. Reitzel and Tom Tarquinto (two of 12 for 23 yards) couldn't get much passing, either.
One particularly vicious tackle resulted in a Jon Ross fumble on the ensuing kickoff after Barrett's touchdown run. Calvin Eason fell on the fumble for Houston at the Mid 26. One play later, the quick Clark burst through a huge hole and raced untouched the distance for his second score and a 26-0 lead. Elston ran over the two-point conversion and Houston had a commanding 28-0 lead.
Navy, which suffered a 33-0 shutout to Notre Dame here this season, lost the ball on its next possession when, after a hard charge by Mitchell, Tarquinio's low throw was batted in the air and intercepted by Greg Harmon at the Navy 40. Houston drove to the 19 but stalled. Shaffer then missed a 36 yard field goal attempt as the first half came to an end.
"We got some cheap points early off some breaks," said Yeoman, who now has a 7-2-1 bowl record in his 19 years at the school. "The offensive line really fired off the ball and played with intensity and enthusiasm."
Even in the second half, Houston was taking names. The defense refused to allow Navy to get any closer than the Cougar 25-yard line.