Navy shocked ninth-ranked Arkansas and an overflow crowd of 54,706 by taking a 7-0 lead in the first three minutes tonight. It proved of minimal disruption to the expected victory party, however.
The Razorbacks eventually wore down the Midshipmen, scoring one touchdown on an 89-yard drive that encompassed 18 running plays, and earned a 29-17 victory.
Navy quarterback Marco Pagnanelli completed 11 of his first 12 passes. Despite some egregious muffs by his receivers and the erasure of two long gains by penalties, Pagnanelli completed 19 of 30 for two touchdowns and 274 yards, a career high, and 20 yards short of Bob Leszczynski's academy record.
"Pagnanelli did a super job," said Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz. "We'll see better passers than Pagnanelli, but we won't see a better competitor. He took advantage of our mistakes."
Andy Ponseigo was the brightest light in a Navy defense that bent much of the night, but was never shattered. Ponseigo had 21 tackles and fellow linebacker Carl Wagner was credited with 15, as Arkansas (2-0) repeatedly broke through Navy's front line.
The opening touchdown for Navy (1-1) came on a 50-yard pass from Pagnanelli to split end Bill Cebak. It was the first collegiate reception for Cebak, a replacement for starter Chris Weiler, who was left home with pneumonia. Cebak raced down the right sideline and cut in, fooling cornerback Nathan Jones as he caught the ball at the seven.
"We knew we could throw against their defense," Cebak said. "Even though they have size and speed, their technique isn't good. I don't think they thought too much of us coming into the game."
Steve Young's kickoff pinned Arkansas at the 13. On the Razorbacks' first play, a pass from quarterback Tom Jones to fullback Jessie Clark in the flat was turned into a six-yard loss by defensive end Travis Wallington.
That was the high-water mark for the Midshipmen. They managed only two first downs the remainder of the half and found themselves behind at intermission, 22-7.
Arkansas drove 61 yards in 15 plays for its first touchdown, scoring with five seconds left in the first period on a one-yard keeper by Jones.
That last yard came hard, as Jones and Clark were stopped short before Jones slipped in on third down after faking a handoff. Jones had created the first down at the one on a successful fourth-down sneak.
Although Ernie Villareal's conversion attempt went wide, Arkansas moved ahead 53 seconds later when Pagnanelli was sacked for a safety by nose guard Richard Richardson. The line of scrimmage was the eight, following a holding penalty against Navy.
It took Arkansas 59 yards and 10 plays to make it 15-7, with Jones throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to flanker Mark Mistler. During the drive, three breakers in the stadium's electrical system were tripped, reducing visibility considerably, and Navy linebacker Ken Fancher was the victim of a heart-breaking play.
Arkansas' Thomas Brown fumbled as two Midshipmen hit him near the right sideline at the Navy 22. The ball squirted right to Fancher, who was alone, but it struck his chest and caromed out of bounds, leaving Arkansas in possession.
Later, Pagnanelli's 46-yard pass to Cebak gave Navy a chance to strike back, but Rich Clouse bobbled a handoff at the Arkansas 16 and linebacker Bert Zinamon recovered.
An interference penalty was the key to Arkansas' third touchdown, with halfback Darryl Bowles going the last 11 yards of an 80-yard drive through a big hole in the right side of the Navy line.
On fourth and 15 from the Navy 31, the Razorbacks rejected a field-goal attempt. Quarterback Brad Taylor threw in the direction of Gary Anderson, the split end who went in as a substitute to loud applause after missing the opener with an ear infection. Several Midshipmen were close and a yellow flag indicated one was too close, giving Arkansas a first down at the 14.
"That interference call in the first half was a lousy call," said Navy Coach Gary Tranquill. "It was the worst job of officiating I've ever seen."
Navy pulled within 22-10 midway through the third period on a 21-yard field goal by Young. The score was set up by Brian Cianella's interception at the 50.
Navy drove to a first down at the 11, with Pagnanelli completing four straight passes. He made it five in a row with a pass to Napoleon McCallum at the four, where McCallum seemingly was hit early by cornerback Danny Walters. There was no interference call and therefore no first down, so Young was summoned.
Apparently upset by the interception, Holtz kept his team on the ground on its next possession. The Razorbacks went 89 yards in 18 plays, covering 9 minutes 14 seconds, and took a 29-10 lead when Clark went six yards around left end early in the fourth period.
A six-yard pass from Pagnanelli to Clouse ended the scoring with 36 seconds left.