Navy fumbled five times in the first half today, but settled down after intermission and defeated top-ranked NCAA Division 1-AA power Eastern Kentucky, 24-0, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Despite all those first-half errors and a thigh injury to tailback Eddie Meyers, the Mids still managed a fortuitous 53-yard touchdown play when tight end Greg Papajohn caught teammate Chris Yelder's fumble in midair and raced 40 yards to score in the second period.
Navy dominated the second half, scoring 17 points and holding the Colonels (2-1) to two second-half first downs. Eastern Kentucky never got into Navy territory in the final 30 minutes.
"Overall we didn't play poorly, but we didn't play well, either," Navy Coach George Welsh said.
"I thought we were just plain lucky in the first half. We could have very easily been down 13-0, but we end up ahead, 7-0. We're making a lot of mistakes, like not reading well and missing assignments, but we're 2-0 and have only given up seven points, so . . . . "
Navy's freshman tailback, Napoleon McCallum, replaced Meyers midway through the first quarter and rushed 87 yards on 24 carries, scored a touchdown and completed a pass.
Meyers, third among Navy's all-time rushers, sustained a deep thigh bruise and is listed as questionable for next Saturday's game at Michigan.
"It's a really bad bruise," Welsh said. "It's just above the knee. He was really hurting. He couldn't have gone back in, even if this were the Army game. It's going to be a couple of days before we know how long he'll be out." Meyers said his leg was very sore and left the stadium on crutches.
McCallum, 6 feet 2, 188 pounds, became the first Plebe to score a touchdown since l979. His long gain was only nine yards today, but he was impressive, particularly on a four-yard, third-period run for Navy's second touchdown.
The play was a sweep to the left and McCallum was left one on one against cornerback Tom White. McCallum faked White to the inside, then ran around him into the end zone.
"It feels good to carry the ball that much," McCallum said, "but I should have broken a couple of them."
Welsh again started Tom Tarquinio at quarterback and alternated him with Marco Pagnanelli. He said he would do the same next week.
Navy lost the ball on fumbles in the first half at its 22 and 28 yard lines, but there was no real damage. The first time, Eastern Kentucky moved to the five before quarterback Chris Isaac fumbled back to the Mids.
After recovering the second Navy fumble, the Colonels missed a 37-yard field goal. Coincidentally, a Navy fumble resulted in the Mids' only score of the half.
Tarquinio completed a 13-yard pass to Yelder, but safety George Floyd hit Yelder just as he caught the ball at the Eastern Kentucky 40. The ball flew into the air and into the arms of Papajohn, who carried it 40 yards to the end zone.
"We practiced that thing behind closed doors all week," Navy assistant Frank Spaziani said.
Eastern Kentucky moved to the Navy eight with eight seconds left in the half, but Jamie Lovett didn't make good contact with the ball on a 25-yard field goal attempt and it barely traveled 10 yards.
Navy's Jeff Shoemake recovered a fumble by Eastern Kentucky's Terrence Thompson at the Colonels' 29 yard line early in the third quarter. McCallum carried four straight times for 19 yards before the Mids bogged down and settled for Steve Fehr's 32-yard field goal.
McCallum's touchdown and Fehr's conversion six minutes later increased the Navy lead to 17-0. The Mids got their final touchdown when third-team quarterback Jeff Korn scored on a one-yard run with 43 seconds to play.
Eastern Kentucky had outscored its previous two opponents, South Carolina State and Youngstown State, 52-6, "but our whole offense seemed nervous and not right today," Coach Roy Kidd said. "Isaac looked extremely shaky."
The Colonel quarterback completed five of 12 passes for 87 yards and had two intercepted. He rushed 18 yards on nine carries, but fumbled twice.