In a season that started with glorious expectations but instead has been filled with demoralizing frustrations, Navy had some fun today in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Navy 56, Lafayette 14. And it wasn't as close as it sounded -- Lafayette got its second touchdown with 39 seconds left in the game on a desperation pass. Navy Coach Gary Tranquill dressed 71 Midshipmen and used them all.
"That's a fun game," Tranquill said. "Everybody played. Everybody's happy."
Lafayette, however, is a Division I-AA team whose victories have come against New Hampshire, Columbia, Cornell and James Madison, with a loss to Colgate. But that was probably just as well for Navy (2-4).
"This was a must win," said Navy quarterback Bill Byrne, who completed 10 of 11 passes for 154 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. "I don't care if we were playing a high school team. We just had to get a win."
The Midshipmen were on their way to that before many of the 28,402 fans were in their seats. The game was just 2:17 old when Napoleon McCallum scored the first of his three first-half touchdowns, from five yards out. The score was set up by Vince McBeth's interception on the game's third play from scrimmage.
Navy would intercept three more passes (and recover one fumble), and score seven more touchdowns. It was the most points for a Navy team since the 1953 squad beat Princeton, 65-7.
Sophomore split end Don Hughes from Alexandria had not touched the ball in a game this year until he grabbed a reverse option pitch and ran 65 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 second-quarter lead. Navy was up 28-7 when it took the second-half kickoff. On the first play after McCallum went over 100 yards rushing (finishing with 107), Byrne found Hughes for a 56-yard touchdown pass.
"Bill was my quarterback at NAPS (Naval Academy Prep School) and we talked about hooking up again," Hughes said to reporters, while in the background Byrne yelled, "Old times, old times!"
Junior tailback John McKenna was another reserve who had a day to remember. McKenna, who hadn't carried the ball before, ran three times for 23 yards and two touchdowns.
"I get abused all the time about my height and my (prominent) nose," McKenna said. "It's nice to get a chance to play. When I saw the goal line, I just went for it."
Two first-half drives told the story of Navy's season -- the bad and the good.
With a 7-0 lead, Navy began on its 44-yard line, but on the first play, lost fullback Chuck Smith with a sprained right ankle. Tranquill said Smith should be able to play next week against Pittsburgh, although defensive end Ken Rouser (left knee) may take longer. Then, after three McCallum runs, Byrne fumbled the snap for Navy's only turnover. Turnovers at bad times have plagued Navy all year, but this wasn't crucial, and McCallum made sure of that.
He had 95 yards in the first half when the game was still a game. Lafayette, which left its top quarterback home with the flu, had 52.
"Coach said to go out, hang loose and have fun, and that's what we did," McCallum said. "A win gives you confidence, and hopefully, practice will be a little more spirited."
Tranquill was cautious in his assessment. It was a victory, which takes some of the pressure off. But it was Lafayette.
Said Tranquill, "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't."