For the past three weeks, Navy had not been able to come up with many big plays, which was a major reason for three straight defeats.
Today, a revamped secondary and receiver Ken Heine changed that as the Midshipmen broke away from a 14-14 tie and went on to beat Lehigh, 31-14, before 25,372 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Heine, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, said two weeks ago the receivers had to assume a bigger burden with the loss of Napoleon McCallum (broken ankle). Today, Heine tied a school record by catching three touchdown passes.
His third scoring catch of the day, a six-yard effort from Bill Byrne, followed an interception by Marc Firlie and gave Navy a 10-point cushion with just six seconds elapsed in the final period.
"That interception really hurt us," said Lehigh Coach John Whitehead. "I was disappointed in a couple of our experienced players (on defense). I thought they should have played a little better than they did."
Lehigh, the 16th-ranked team in Division I-AA, dropped to 4-2, but not without a fight.
Trailing, 14-7, at halftime, Lehigh quarterback Marty Horn (22 of 41 for 188 yards) directed his team on an 80-play drive to tie the game. Eric Hunsberger scored on a seven-yard reverse and Mike Beattie made the kick to tie at 14 with 8:51 left in the third period.
Navy then drove from its 28 to the Engineers' 15, where the Midshipmen had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Todd Solomon and a 17-14 advantage.
Enter the big plays.
Lehigh was in the midst of a nice drive, reaching the Navy 30, where Horn faced third and 12. Horn was looking for his favorite receiver, Rennie Benn (five catches for 73 yards), but his errant throw was intercepted by Furlie and returned 29 yards to midfield.
"He made a great play on that ball," said Navy Coach Gary Tranquill, whose team is 2-3. "Except for a few minutes in the third period, I was pleased with our defense."
Tranquill didn't have his best defensive back and kick returner Eric Wallace, who suffered a hamstring pull during practice last week. But Furlie, who along with Tom Metzger and Greg Stefanon have been playing because of injuries, had a fine game.
"I was just sitting back in the zone and I saw him (Benn) come across the middle," said Furlie, who also had an interception in the first half to stop a Lehigh threat. "I wasn't looking at the quarterback and the ball was off target."
After the interception, Byrne -- thanks to a 30-yard pass to Chris Weiler (six catches for 124 yards) -- needed only five plays to get his team in the end zone. Heine got open and Byrne threw to him. Solomon's kick made it 24-14.
Lehigh fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Murray Cook recovered at the visitors' 31. Five running plays later, Byrne scored on a one-yard sneak and Navy was up, 31-14.
"I made a couple of mistakes earlier and I was upset at myself," said Byrne, who finished with 13 completions in 21 attempts for 189 yards and the three touchdown passes to Heine. "When Bob (Misch, the other quarterback) replaced me (just before the half ended), I wasn't surprised. But Bob hurt his ankle and I got the chance to go back in."
Misch's mildly sprained ankle is not expected to keep him out of next week's game with Princeton.
Navy spotted Lehigh a 7-0 lead as Horn scored on a one-yard run after the Engineers recovered a fumble by Rich Clouse on the Navy 11.
Heine caught his first touchdown of the day, a 10-yarder that culminated a 79-yard, eight-play drive, to tie the game late in the first period.
Navy's defense held Horn and the Engineers' short passing game in check for the remainder of the half. Byrne, after several near interceptions and an intentional grounding call that left the hosts in a deep hole, was replaced by Misch.
The sophomore moved the Midshipmen into scoring position twice. The first time Solomon missed a 50-yard field goal try and the second, the Midshipmen had a first and 10 at the 19 when Misch sprained his ankle.
Byrne returned and four plays later hooked up with Heine again to put Navy ahead, 14-7.
"It was sort of a makeshift pattern," said Heine, who had four catches for 48 yards. "I got knocked off my pass route so I just sort of hooked in the end zone."