When Navy's football team ran onto the AstroTurf at Giants Stadium for a workout Friday, offensive guard Gregg Sears slipped and sprained an ankle.
Things did not get much better for the Midshipmen today. With Sears watching on crutches, and joined by four other injured players before halftime, Notre Dame defeated Navy for the 19th straight season, 27-10.
Navy's defense was outstanding as usual, but it was betrayed by an offense that yielded six interceptions -- three to safety Dave Duerson -- and a lost fumble. Notre Dame, by contrast, threw 37 times and had none stolen, to establish a one-game Irish record for passes without an interception.
"Notre Dame is a great defensive team and when you turn the ball over to them as many times as we did, they're going to get some points on the board," said Navy Coach Gary Tranquill.
The Midshipmen tried a shotgun, a double-wing formation, twin tight ends and a few other abnormal wrinkles in an attempt to end a streak of three straight shutouts at the hands of the Irish. But it was the defense that finally broke through, with tackle Eric Rutherford sacking Notre Dame quarterback Blair Kiel for a safety early in the third quarter.
Navy scored its last eight points in the closing minutes, as quarterback Tom Tarquinio threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to split end Bill Cebak, then passed to tailback Rich Clouse for a two-point conversion.
It was only 13-2 after the safety, which came on the first play following an interception by cornerback Stacey Toran at the Notre Dame seven. But three more interceptions occurred among Navy's next 11 offensive plays, and the Irish were able to turn two of them into touchdowns.
Tarquinio, whose six interceptions established a Navy record, was hit by cornerback John Mosley as he threw the ball and it fluttered into the hands of linebacker Mark Zavagnin at the Navy 47.
The Irish needed five plays to make it 20-2, fullback Larry Moriarty grabbing a Kiel pass in the right flat and completing a 17-yard touchdown. That brought Coach Gerry Faust racing out to hug Moriarty, who raised his fist in elation.
"I'm pretty quiet, but I got excited that time and when I get excited the rest of the guys seem to get going, too," said Moriarty, healthy again after suffering a sprained ankle three weeks ago.
The Irish did get going, as safety Dave Duerson intercepted a flat pass at the Navy 23 on the Midshipmen's next scrimmage play and took it to the 12. Tailback Allen Pinkett, a third stringer who started because of injuries to Greg Bell and Phil Carter, went over left tackle for the touchdown and it was 27-2.
"I tried to force the ball a couple of times too many and it hurt us," said Tarquinio, playing in place of injured Marco Pagnanelli.
The Midshipmen entered the game with a lengthy injury list and before halftime, Tranquill dipped into the junior varsity roster for replacements, with Ed Pierson, a sophomore out of Seneca Valley High, moving in at defensive end.
Cocaptain Dennis McCall, who suffered an ankle injury earlier in the week, handled only a few shotgun snaps before giving way to Pete Oswald at center. The other cocaptain, defensive end Travis Wallington, was also gone in the first quarter, with a bruised arm. Joining them on the sidelines before halftime were cornerback Jon Ross, bruised sternum, and defensive end Chris Davis, torn knee ligaments.
"If we had any more people hurt, we might have had to put the coaching staff in," Tranquill said. "It's very frustrating. But under the circumstances the kids played hard."
Navy was competitive until the interceptions. Rover Brian Cianella blocked a 44-yard field-goal try by Mike Johnston, ending a string of 13 successes for Johnston. Then the Midshipmen, making full use of their new offensive strengths, drove 50 yards to a first down at the Notre Dame 24.
A high snap sailed over Tarquinio's head, however, and after he picked up the ball he turned and threw into a crowd. Duerson picked it off at the Irish 13 and returned to the Navy 41, where Tarquinio made the saving tackle.
Twice sacks of Kiel drove the Irish out of field-goal range and forced punts. The second time, Navy marched 53 yards to a first down at the Notre Dame 27. Two losses and an incomplete pass left Navy looking at a 50-yard field goal, a possibility for Steve Young, but instead Tranquill ordered a punt.
Why? "I don't know," replied Tranquill.
Notre Dame needed only eight plays to cover 80 yards for the game's first score, produced at 7:28 of the second quarter on a three-yard pass from Kiel to wide receiver Chris Smith, a converted linebacker making his first reception for the Irish. It was the first touchdown pass of the year for the Irish and Faust ran out to embrace Kiel, who hit six of six on the march.
"I don't care whether it was a TD pass," said Faust. "All I want to do is score. But it does take pressure off our passing attack. You'll have to think of something else to write about now."
With 35 seconds left in the half, Johnston kicked a 40-yard field goal to boost the Notre Dame lead to 10-0. Then Navy's Napoleon McCallum fumbled the kickoff, Jack Shields recovered for the Irish and Johnston was able to add a 48-yarder, his longest of the season, with one second on the clock.
It was a frustrating day for McCallum, who saw limited duty because of a bruised shoulder. In the second half, he had punt returns of 46 and 51 yards, the latter to the Irish 10, nullified by penalties.