The ancient Yale Bowl, the last bastion of Ivy League respectability, reverberated with the joy of a remarkable upset today. The Elis, best of an eight-team league that is de-emphasizing football, used the 202-yard passing of John Rogan and the three fumble recoveries of Fred Leone to defeat Navy, 23-19.
In the end, Yale (3-0) proved to the 38,000 noisy fans and a regional television audience that brains can succeed where brawn is not in evidence. Yielding both ball and wind to Navy (2-2) at the start of the third period, the Elis took advantage of the gusts in the fourth period to shove the Midshipmen into a trap from which they could not escape.
With 4:46 remaining and Navy ahead, 19-16, Yale's Tony Jones punted 49 yards to the Navy two, Midshipman Jeff Shoemake allowing it to bounce and sadly watching it die short of the end zone.
After three plays gained one yard, Navy's Steve Fehr kicked poorly into the wind and Yale's Rich Diana brought it back six yards to the Navy 24. On first down, Rogan passed to split end Curt Grieve, seemingly sandwiched by Shoemake and Elliott Reagans, in the right corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
"It was a post corner, the pass we work on more than anything," Rogan said. "I read the coverage and I knew there wasn't room for error, but I guess it was on the money. I didn't say anything, but I knew throwing the ball would be the key. We couldn't run through them."
With 3:19 remaining, Yale was ahead to stay. Navy twice more had possession in its own territory, but was unable to gain a first down and extended to eight games its history of failure the week after a visit to Michigan. At game's end, fans mobbed their heroes from every direction and it was a long time before the blue-clad Elis could reach the dressing room.
"This is Yale's biggest victory since I've been born," one banner-waving Bulldog backer shouted as he left the stadium.
Rogan could understand such enthusiasm, even if he could not agree.
"This is probably our biggest victory in magnitude, because of the national attention focused on the games this week," Rogan said. "Everyone will savor it for a long time and the Old Blues most of all. They still talk about a 14-12 game with Army years ago and they can remember the days when Yale played the big guys every week. But for me and the rest of the team, it means more to beat Harvard and Princeton and mop up the rest of the league."
After seven minutes today, it appeared that there would be no reason for Old Blues to celebrate. Navy scored on its first two possessions, besides blocking a Yale punt for a safety, and took a 12-0 lead. At that point, Diana, who would pass Calvin Hill with 69 yards today to become Yale's all-time No. 8 rusher, had carried three times for minus eight yards.
Yale drove for two first downs on its next possession, watched Fehr's field-goal streak terminated at six as he missed a 44-yarder and then drove 45 yards to a field goal of its own.
"I think our kids were very nervous at the start," said Yale Coach Carm Cozza. "But they found they all put their shoes on the same way and they discovered they could play with them. They started to get confidence."
They also started to dominate the game. With Navy starting tailback, Eddie Myers, out with a bruised right thigh, plebe Napoleon McCallum assumed that key role. Shaken up in the first quarter, however, he lacked his usual zip thereafter and his fumble, recovered by Leone at the Navy 27, set up a Yale touchdown just before halftime.
The score came with 1:32 left on a 15-yard pass from Rogan to tight end Tom Kokoska. Despite a botched snap on the extra point, Yale was back in contention at 12-9.
The second half produced an almost unrelieved succession of Navy erros. A bad snap on a punt gave Yale possession at the Navy 26. Holding penalties behind the line cost Navy 18 and 17 yards in crucial spots. The Midshipmen managed only four first downs after the intermission as swarming Yale tacklers led by linebacker Jeff Rohrer (20 tackles for the game), tackle Serge Mihaly (13) and cornerback Dave Daugherty (12) controlled the line of scrimmage.
Fehr's punting did not help, either. He averaged 28 yards today, only one more than the Yale kickers whose satistics were diminished by two blocks. A 30-yard kick by Fehr, wind at his back, laid the groundwork for a Yale touchdown late in the third quarter.
Starting at the Navy 48, Yale scored in three plays. Rogan completed a 27-yard pass to an unguarded Grieve and after a yard loss running, connected with Grieve for a 22-yard touchdown.
Navy's Travis Wallington raised hopes of a comeback by blocking his second punt of the day, Mike Crum recovering at the Yale 16. On first down, plebe tailback Dick Clouse ran through right tackle for a score behind Chris Yelder's block.
A fumble by Clouse, however, pounced upon by the ever-present Leone at the Navy 45, set the stage for the decisive exchange of punts and Grieve's game winner. Navy decimated by injuries was hurt again early in the second quarter when linebacker Kris Hauer went down with a knee injury.