It was the shortcomings of his new team, rather than inspired play by his old one, that ruined George Welsh's return to Navy-Marine Corps the Navy 10-yard line. Half those incursions produced field goals, half turned up nothing as the Midshipmen bent with adversity and achieved a 20-16 victory.
Although Virginia's versatile offense amassed 430 yards to Navy's 226, the Cavaliers managed only one touchdown, on a 54-yard pass play that averted a breakdown in the booby-trapped turf between goal line and 10.
Our defense had a couple of lapses, three or four big plays which you can't do, but we stopped them down close when it counted," said Gary Tranquill, Navy's new boss, whose debut as a head coach was overshadowed by Welsh's homecoming.
Navy's winning score, the second of two touchdown passes from quarterback Marco Pagnanelli to tailback Rich Clouse, came with 54 seconds left in the third quarter. A 19-yarder, it was set up by yet one more Virginia mistake, a fumble recovered by rover back Brian Cianella at the Cavaliers' 23.
That mishap, tailback Quentin Walker's muff of Mike Eck's pitchout, occurred one possession after corner back Eric Wallace had foiled Virginia with an interception in the Navy end zone. So, instead of a 20-13 lead for the Cavaliers, it was the other way around as the fourth frustrating period began for welsh and Virginia.
Wayne Schuchts, a most capable substitute for starter Eck, quarter backed the Cavaliers from their 20 to the Navy seven, where a 26-yard interference call against Cianella produced a first down.
Two tries up the middle netted one yard and, after an incomplete pass on third down, Wayne Morrison tried to kick a 23-yard field goal. It turned out to be the only miss by either place kicker, as Eck had trouble with the hold and Morrison was wide to the right.
Navy's Mark Colby shanked a punt 19 yards, out of bounds at his 48, to give Virginia another chance. On first down, Schuchts recovered his fumbled snap and hit flanker Mickey Graham behind Wallace at the eight.
Despite a first-down offside by Navy that put the ball on the four, Virginia could not get in. Antonio Rice gained a yard, Wallace broke up a pass and defensive end Hamp Oberle of Annandale, a standout all day, sacked Schuchts at the 10. With 7:51 remaining, Morrison kicked a 27-yard field goal for the game's final points.
Virginia had one more possession, after Pat Chester made an unwise fair catch of a punt at his 12 with running room available. On third and 10 from the 24, Schucts was sacked by the blitzing Cianella. Virginia punted and did not get the ball back, a final opportunity denied when the Cavaliers' punt rush produced an offside with Navy kicking on fourth and two at the Virginia 40.
Virginia's frustrations began in the first quarter, when sophomore Eck marched the Cavaliers to a first down at the Navy four. It became third down at the one and Navy jumped offside on that play, but Virginia still wound up kicking a field goal, following a delay-of-game penalty as it lined up on fourth and one.
"Maybe that was good," Welsh said, sarcastically. "At least we got three points. Maybe we wouldn't have scored."
Navy built a 13-3 lead on Pagnanelli's 18-yard pass to Clouse and field goals of 44 and 28 yards by Steve Young, a two-year soccer letterman kicking in his first college football game. Young's 28- yarder followed a 72-yard punt return by Napoleon McCallum, victim of Rich Riccardi's great tackle at the 16.
Then Schuchts, a junior transfer from Colgate, replaced Eck and quickly produced. Overcoming a clipping penalty with a second-and-21 pass of 29 yards to flanker Henry Johnson, Schuchts on the next play threw to split end Nick Merrick for a 54-yard scoring pass down the left sideline.
Shortly after the ensuing kickoff, Virginia cornerback William Frazier cut in front of Navy receiver Chris Weiler to intercept Pagnanelli's pass and return it 24 yards to the Navy 12. After three plays gained eight yards, Morrison tied the score with a 22-yard field goal.
When Virginia regained possession, Schuchts hit tight end Billy Griggs over the middle from the Navy 31. Griggs was alone until he reached the five, then Cianella dashed up and jarred the ball loose, with Kurt Dixon recovering for Navy.
"I was thinking go for the hit and keep him from the goal line," Cianella said, "I ripped it out with my right arm."
Despite Schuchts' success, Welsh began the second half with Eck. Eventually, he called on Schuchts again and the two quarterbacks wound up with 13 completions for 269 yards, a hugh figure for a Welsh team, since the old quarterback prefers to see his tailbacks carrying the ball.
Besides forcing Griggs' fumble and recovering Walker's bobble, Cianella was credited with 10 tackles, including the key sack. In addition to his interference foul, he was penalized for roughing the passer.
"I made some mistakes, but I shook them off, and I made some big plays, but I didn't rest on them," said the senior out of Langley High in Mc Lean. "This was like the bowl game with Ohio State, fighting and scratching after a big buildup. But I liked this better, because we won."