The 85th Army-Navy football game remained within its military bounds.

Army stayed on the ground.

Navy sank.

Relying on a quarterback who was a discontented free safety a year ago and a fullback who played intramural football last season, Army gained 464 yards -- 432 rushing -- to defeat Navy, 28-11, before 73,180 at Veterans Stadium.

It was Army's first victory in this series since 1977.

"They just hammered us," said Navy Coach Gary Tranquill, who watched his season end at 4-6-1. Army, headed to its first bowl -- the Cherry Bowl Dec. 22 against Michigan State -- is 7-3-1.

Nate Sassaman, the senior quarterback with three bruised ribs, ran for 154 yards on 25 carries, scored two touchdowns and completed four of five passes (the other was intercepted).

Sassaman, who finished the season with 1,002 yards rushing, said, "In my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd gain 1,000 yards for a season. But it's icing on the cake because it's such a big deal to beat Navy."

Doug Black, the junior fullback, gained 155 yards on 31 carries and scored a touchdown. Both ensured 1,000-yard rushing seasons and Black broke Army's single-season rushing record with a total of 1,148 yards.

Is it any surprise that Army is the top-ranked rushing team in the nation, averaging 345.3 yards per game?

"Every time I looked up, it was second and three or second and four," Tranquill said. "We'd try to stop them for two-yard gains and they would end up with six."

Army won not by chunks, but by bits and pieces. In the process, Navy's defense, which played so well in a 38-21 upset of then-No. 2 South Carolina two weeks ago, was thoroughly confused.

"It kind of takes the fun out of the game when you have assignments and know who you are supposed to tackle," said defensive tackle Eric Rutherford. "I wanted to do more, but I had to stay in my position."

The Cadets' longest gain was 39 yards, and that occurred on one of Black's rushes in the final three minutes of the game.

"If we gain four yards per play, we're on schedule," Sassaman said. Most telling was Army's time of possession: 36 minutes 50 seconds to Navy's 23:10.

The game was never in doubt after two long touchdown drives on Army's first two possessions gave the Cadets a 14-0 lead.

This convincing victory proved to be the final vindication for Army Coach Jim Young who, in his second year as head coach after a 2-9 season in 1983, has led the Cadets to their best record since 1967.

Young decided to dump his drop-back passing attack after last season and install a triple-option wishbone.

In the process, he ended up with four new players in his starting backfield this season, none of whom had played even one down at his position in 1983.

"By the middle of last year, I knew we couldn't pass and we couldn't run," Young said after the game. "I knew we had to go to the option."

"I was doing cartwheels in my room, because that was my home, running the ball," Sassaman remembered after Young picked him to run the option offense.

In Annapolis, Navy's players heard about the switch. They had to laugh.

"I thought, 'Hey, they don't have any runners to do it,' " Rutherford said. "Then I kept watching all season as they got better and better."

Today's 432 rushing yards were not Army's best of the season. The Cadets gained 628 against Montana two weeks ago in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo. But these were the most gratifying.

"They just owned Veterans Stadium," Sassaman said. "I think Navy may have been a little surprised (by how well the wishbone worked), and maybe a little nervous. We had a basic game plan; we didn't change at all. Our offensive line just blew them out."

First it was a 16-play, 80-yard drive in six minutes, ending in halfback Clarence Jones' six-yard run, for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

Then it was a 16-play, 71-yard drive in five minutes, ending in Black's one-yard run, for a 14-0 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half.

And, by then, Navy already was battered.

"It was a letdown," said quarterback Bob Misch, who completed 22 of the 39 passes he threw for 280 yards and one touchdown. "It got us mad. We knew that if they kept running the ball, we would be losing the game."

The Midshipmen battled back for Todd Solomon's 40-yard field goal with five minutes remaining in the first half. The score remained at 14-3 at halftime, but even that was demoralizing for Navy.

Two plays before Solomon's field goal, Misch faced a second-and-six call at the Army 10. This was Navy's most promising moment -- until linebacker Marty Baptiste sacked Misch on second down and linebacker Jim Gentile sacked him on third down.

Navy got the ball back four minutes later after an Army punt and began to drive. Misch was on target most of the afternoon, and Navy was driving.

On fourth and six at the Army 39, Misch threw to tight end Mark Stevens, who was open over the middle.

He ran inside the five-yard line, then cornerback Kermit McKelvy stripped him of the ball. Strong safety Doug Pavek followed the bouncing ball into the end zone and landed on it for a touchback, and another Navy threat was over.

Early in the third quarter, it happened again. Misch completed a pass to split end John Lobb to the Army 48, but Lobb fumbled as he was hit and Gentile recovered.

"That's the only time that's happened all year," Misch said, "that receivers fumbled after they caught the ball. It really hurt because it happened at crucial times. I can't tell if it took the wind out of our sails or not."

It certainly didn't hurt Army. The Cadets drove to their third touchdown after Lobb's fumble when Sassaman kept the ball on the option to the right side, then cut back across the field into the end zone for a nine-yard scoring run and a 21-3 lead.

Sassaman scored on a six-yard run around the right side early in the fourth quarter after another one of those relentless, 16-play, 74-yard drives.

Those two touchdowns came on the same basic play, a new play Army installed for this game. The first time, it worked inside the tight end's block, the second time, it worked outside.

Misch raised Navy hopes momentarily when he completed a six-yard lob to Chris Weiler (and a two-point conversion to him, too) to cut the Army lead to 28-11 with 8:07 remaining in the game.

But that was all the Cadets would allow, finishing by stopping Weiler one yard short of the goal line on a fourth-down pass with 3:25 left to play.

In two weeks, Navy has reached its zenith and its nadir. "We've had our highest high," Rutherford said, "and, now, our lowest low." Army 7 7 7 7 28 Navy 0 3 0 8 11

A -- Jones 6 run (Stopa kick)

A -- Black 1 run (Stopa kick)

N -- FG Solomon 40

A -- Sassaman 9 run (Stopa kick)

A -- Sassaman 6 run (Stopa kick)

N -- Weiler 6 pass from Misch (Weiler pass from Misch)

A -- 73,180 Army Navy First downs 26 24 Rushes-yards 84-432 29-62 Passing yards 32 280 Return yards 8 8 Passing 4-5-1 22-39-0 Punts-average 4-32.5 4-34.3 Fumbles-lost 1-0 4-2 Penalties-yards 6-61 3-31 Time of possession 36:50 23:10 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING -- Army: Black 31-155, Sassaman 25-154, C. Jones 13-60, Hollingsworth 11-60, Perry 1-4, Lampley 1-1, Bryant 2-minus 2. Navy: Clouse 12-45, M. Smith 5-23, C. Smith 1-12, Berner 2-6, Weiler 1-2, Misch 8-minus 26.

PASSING -- Army: Sassaman 4-5-1, 32 yards. Navy: Misch 22-39-0, 280.

RECEIVING -- Army: Dickerson 2-17, C. Jones 1-10, White 1-5. Navy: Weiler 6-54, Stevens 5-85, Clouse 3-36, Heine 2-35, Berner 2-28, Hollinger 1-24, M. Smith 1-9, Lobb 1-7, C. Smith 1-2.