In a game with more negative statistics than points, Army gave its football program a much-needed boost today by tying heavily favored Navy, 3-3. Afterward, the Cadets celebrated while the Midshipmen talked as if they had lost.
"You mean we didn't lose?" asked tailback Eddie Meyers. "Why do I feel so bad then?"
Steve Fehr, who scored Navy's only points on a 35-yard field goal with a second left in the first half, but missed on a 49-yard kick with 2:28 left in the game, said, "It's not quite as bad as a loss, but I see what they mean when they say a tie is like kissing your grandmother."
Fehr also had a 40-yard try blocked in the second quarter.
Army got its points on Dave Aucoin's 27-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Aucoin missed from 55 yards with 16 seconds to play.
Following Fehr's miss, Army drove to the Navy 36, but an offensive pass interference penalty against plebe Elton Akins moved the Cadets back to midfield. Even after a 12-yard gain on the next play, they still were out of Aucoin's range. His kick was short and to the right.
Army Coach Ed Cavanaugh, whose 3-7 team was a 20-point underdog -- the Cadets had won only one of the last eight Army-Navy games -- said the tie was very important to West Point.
"It shows we've made improvement and progress," he said. "This gives us a positive note to work on when spring practice starts and it'll help us with our recruiting. We have a place to hang our hats now.
"I thought our best chance today was to stay close and maybe something good would happen to us."
The outlook for the Cadets was bleak when they lost their leading rusher and receiver, halfback Gerald Walker, in the first half with a thigh bruise. And he had gained only 35 yards on 12 carries.
With Walker out, the Cadets passed more, reserve quarterback Jerryl Bennett completing nine of 17 for 86 yards. Walker's replacement, Todd Williams, gained 90 yards on 16 carries and had a 42-yard run to set up Aucoin's field goal.
Meyers gained 119 yards on 32 carries to set a Navy single-season record for both rushing attempts and yards. He finished the regular season with 277 carries and 1,318 yards, breaking the records of Joe Gattuso Jr. Gattuso carried 266 times for 1,292 yards in 1977.
"Records are kind of hollow when you set them but don't win the game," Meyers said.
The tie dropped Navy to 7-3-1 with a Dec. 30 date in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis against Ohio State remaining.
Army's most effective weapon today was punter Joe Sartiano, who set an NCAA record by kicking five times for a 57.6-yard average. His longest punt went 79 yards; another of 60 was downed at the Navy one late in the last period. A third punt was downed at the eight and another at the seven.
"We helped a lot with that record because we didn't catch the football," said Coach George Welsh. "The way we handled punts was the worst part of our game."
In contrast, Fehr punted five times for a 29.5-yard average.
The temperature was near freezing and the wind was swirling in Veterans Stadium, which made passing and field goal kicking difficult and probably contributed to a number of the negative statistics.
For instance: the announced crowd of 60,470 was the smallest since 1944; this was the first time no touchdown had been scored since 1934, when Navy won, 3-0, and Army tied a series record with eight fumbles, losing four.
This was the first tie in the series, which Navy leads by one game, since 1965.
Navy drove to its field goal after Aucoin missed from 50 yards, giving the Midshipmen possession at their 33. Quarterback Marco Pagnanelli drove his team to the 18 to set up Fehr just before halftime. Meyers gained 12 yards off tackle during that march and Pagnanelli threw a screen pass to Rich Clouse for 16, then passed to Greg Papajohn for 10 on fourth down the play before Fehr kicked his field goal.
Pagnanelli completed eight of 19 passes for 160 yards, but threw two interceptions.
The first interception, in the first quarter, didn't hurt the Midshipmen, because they got the ball back on a fumble at their seven, but his second, in the third period, was costly.
With Army having just kicked the tying field goal, Navy plebe Napoleon McCallum returned the ensuing kickoff 56 yards to Army's 34. Meyers ran twice for 10 yards, but on first down Pagnanelli tried a play-action pass to Chris Yelder that didn't fool safety Mike Williams.
Williams stepped in front of Yelder at the six and intercepted.
"I didn't even see him until after I threw it," said Pagnanelli. "It was a poor throw, just like the first interception. I should have scanned the field and thrown to a different receiver."
"We made a lot a lot of stupid mistakes today," Welsh said, not singling out anyone. "Army played hard and played good, but we just played so dumb sometimes. No wonder we didn't win."