Navy spotted Georgia Tech an 11-point lead in the first quarter today, then came back to send the Yellow Jackets to their ninth straight defeat, 20-14, and stay in contention for a bowl bid.
The running of Eddie Meyers, the passing of Marco Pagnanelli and the defensive play of Tim Jordan and Travis Wallington led the Midshipmen to victory before a Grant Stadium crowd of 20,129, including two representatives from the Hall of Fame Bowl. Navy is 7-3 with only the Dec. 5 game against Army remaining.
The representatives from the Hall of Fame Bowl, in Birmingham, Ala., had breakfast with Navy Athletic Director Bo Coppedge this morning, and sat with him during the game.
"Obviously they're interested in us, or they wouldn't have been here in the first place," Coppedge said. "We're interested, too. We're always interested in a bowl game."
"They (the Midshipmen) are very appealing to us," said one of the representatives. "We'll just wait and see what develops."
Bowl invitations cannot be extended until 6 p.m. next Saturday.
The Holiday Bowl, which is played Dec. 19 in San Diego, scouted the Midshipmen against Syracuse last week and a spokesman from that bowl said today that even though Navy isn't at the top of its list, "we're still interested in them and their victory today certainly didn't hurt them any."
The Hall of Fame Bowl is played Dec. 31 and has no affiliation with any conference. The Holiday Bowl is obligated to take the Western Athletic Conference champion as its host team.
Coppedge said the Hall of Fame Bowl may be more attractive to the Midshipmen if they should get offers from both, because final exams for the first semester are Dec. 11-19.
After the first 15 minutes of today's game it looked as though theMidshipmen were going to flunk their final prebowl test as the Yellow Jackets took a 14-3 lead, one of the scores on an 83-yard run by freshman Robert Lavette, who scored the other touchdown on a six-yard run.
Lavette finished the day with 197 yards rushing, 140 in the first quarter, but the Yellow Jackets didn't score again and Lavette wasn't much of a factor after the first period.
Meyers ran for 196 yards on 38 carries, giving him 1,199 for the season and Pagnanelli, who didn't play last week because of a bruised back, came on in the second quarter and completed 11 of 19 passes for 179 yards as Navy gained 496 yards total offense.
Navy scored on a one-yard run by Napoleon McCallum, a six-yard run by Rich Clouse, two Steve Fehr field goals and two Fehr extra points. Clouse's touchdown, on the Midshipmen's first possession of the second half, proved to be the winning touchdown.
Georgia Tech, which had 213 yards total offense in the first half, got only 40 total yards after intermission.
Jordan and Wallington were the major reasons for that.
Wallington, a 6-foot-2, 221-pound defensive end, sacked Georgia Tech quarterback Stu Rogers once for a 19-yard loss and made three other tackles behind the line of scrimmage for seven more yards in losses. He did it despite an injured left shoulder that popped out of joint twice during the game and in spite of being double-teamed much of the time.
"They put a wingback on the tight-end side and they tried to double-team me," Wallington said, "But instead of waiting and reacting, I tried to dart in between them before they could block me."
The strategy worked and even when Wallington didn't make the tackle, he usually kept the speedy Lavette running inside instead of out.
That sent him to Jordan country.
"We couldn't block their noseguard," Tech Coach Bill Curry said of Jordan. "He was a dominant factor in the game."
Tech had the ball at midfield in the final 90 seconds, but Jordan tackled Rogers hard, forcing him to fumble the ball; Carl Wagner recovered it for the Midshipmen, ensuring the victory and dropping Tech to 1-9. The nine straight losses equaled a streak set in 1934.
Lavette, a 6-foot, 188-pounder from Cartersville, Ga., carried seven times for 57 yards and caught a pass for 11 yards as Georgia Tech drove 90 yards for the game's first touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Lavette scored on a six-yard run.
Navy scored on a 25-yard Fehr field goal on its next possession, but Lavette turned a simple dive play off his right guard into an 83-yard touchdown run as soon as the Yellow Jackets got the ball back.
"The thought of a bowl game might have had us looking past Tech," said Wallington.
The 14-3 deficit readjusted their sights, however.
Pagnanelli came on in relief of Jeff Korn "because I figured we had to throw the ball more and Pagnanelli is a much better passer than Korn," Coach George Welsh said.
Pagnanelli's first pass was incomplete and his second was intercepted.
He settled down on Navy's next possession, completing three of his next four and directing Navy to a touchdown and a field goal before the half ended to get the Midshipmen within 14-13.
Navy drove to the winning touchdown on its first possession of the third period as Pagnanelli moved them 80 yards in eight plays. He completed four of four passes for 71 of the yards, including a 33-yarder to Chris Yelder that put the ball on the four-yard line.
On the next play, Clouse swept his right end for the touchdown and Fehr's extra point ended the scoring.
Navy started the game battered and ended it in worse shape. Guard Mark Woodhouse sprained his left knee and left in the first quarter, and center Pete Oswald, who was playing because regular center Dennis McCall underwent knee surgery last week, broke his hand in the second quarter.
That left the Midshipmen with freshman Greg Sears, who was just called up from the plebe team for today's game, to play the entire second half.
"It's the end of the season, and we're just worn down," said Welsh.