Napoleon McCallum's return to the Naval Academy football team was a less-than-celebratory affair tonight. North Carolina capitalized on three interceptions and benefited from a costly last-minute penalty that negated a two-point conversion pass that would have tied the score, giving the Tar Heels a 21-19 victory.
Navy apparently tied the score on Bill Byrne's conversion pass to split end John Lobb in the right corner of the end zone in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. But the Midshipmen were called for an ineligible receiver downfield, nullifying the two points and any chance to try again, since the penalty also includes loss of down. North Carolina recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
The call was made by umpire Scott Dawson, who contended that guard Mark Miller had drifted off the line of scrimmage as Byrne sprinted out to his right. It was a curious call on a play so near the goal line.
"I don't know what to say," Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said. "I'm not sure we deserved to win, but I'm not sure we deserved to lose, either. I wasn't watching it, I was watching the pattern."
Miller, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior, is supposed to support Byrne on his rollout. He was unsure where he was on the field when the call was made and still was stunned in the locker room.
"I was just playing hard," he said. "I didn't think I was downfield. Maybe I was. I wasn't even near the play. I was in the middle of the field.
According to the rule, a lineman can move three yards downfield as long as he maintains contact with his opponent. Referee Robert Wood called it a "judgment" decision. "They ruled he did not maintain contact with his man."
Byrne's five-yard touchdown pass to McCallum with one minute to play had brought Navy to 21-19. But his third interception, about four minutes earlier, set up the touchdown that put North Carolina ahead, 21-13, after two field goals by Todd Solomon had brought Navy to 14-13.
North Carolina turned two interceptions into touchdowns, one on an 82-yard pass from Kevin Anthony to flanker Earl Winfield, and the other on Brad Lopp's 22-yard run with 4:48 minutes remaining. A third touchdown came from tailback Wlliam Humes, on a three-yard dive.
McCallum, the Heisman Trophy contender who was granted a fifth year for medical hardship after breaking his ankle last year, rushed for 77 yards on 16 carries. He did not become Navy's career rushing leader, falling six yards short of breaking Eddie Meyers' record. McCallum did gain 166 all-purpose yards.
Byrne did not demonstrate any of Anthony's virtuosity. North Carolina's quarterback completed 16 of 29 for 250 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown. Byrne had a miserable first half, completing only five of 15 passes for 75 yards, and improved only slightly in the second half to finish with 22 for 49 for 221 yards.
Nevertheless, Byrne passed well when he had to in the late going, directing the two field-goal drives to bring the Midshipmen to 14-13.
"I don't think they stopped us," Byrne said. "I just wasn't throwing well. We had the right plays, I just didn't execute them."
Solomon kicked his second field goal, a 47-yarder, with 11:14 remaining. It was the culmination of an 11-play, 46-yard drive that was helped by an interference call on a long pass to flanker Mike Ray. On second and 10 at the Navy 44, defensive back Donald Dell made a leaping interception of Byrne's desperation pass, but it was disallowed.
Instead, Navy had a first down on the North Carolina 41. But the drive stalled when Byrne was sacked for 12 yards on second and five at the 26, and a play later, Solomon came on for his second long attempt. This one barely cleared the crossbar.
North Carolina made it 7-0 with 2:51 remaining in the first period when Humes dived over on third and goal from the one to complete a 54-yard, 10-play drive. It was aided by a personal foul penalty on linebacker Vince McBeth when Anthony completed a 15-yard pass to Eric Streater.
Later in the period, a 47-yard field goal attempt by Kenny Miller was short, and the Midshipmen took over at their 31. They drove 69 yards in six plays, culminating in McCallum's 15-yard touchdown. The fire-starter was a gorgeous 46-yard completion from Byrne to flanker Tony Hollinger over the middle. On third and one, McCallum dove over left tackle and burst through, then high-stepped his way into the end zone to make it 7-7.
The third quarter opened with an exchange of turnovers that ultimately turned in North Carolina's favor when Anthony and Winfield connected for a touchdown after Byrne's second interception.
One exhange of punts later, Navy responded with a lengthy drive culminating in Solomon's 48-yard field goal with 1:44 remaining in the third period, making it 14-10.