Call it a coming around or just plain about time, but the Naval Academy actually lived up to some of its preseason expectation today and the result was a 21-7 whoop-and-holler upset of a Pittsburgh team you simply don't do that to.
A giddy crowd of 29,343 at Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium watched as struggling quarterback Bill Byrne distinguished himself after a half-season of heartbreak with a near flawless performance, including a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Furthermore, the remarkable Napoleon McCallum might have put himself back in the Heisman Trophy race, because he ran for two more touchdowns, for one and six yards in the first half, and gained 121 yards against a hulking Pitt defense ranked second in the nation against the rush.
"We just got it handed to us today," Pitt Coach Foge Fazio said. "They did everything right and we couldn't do anything at all . . . They stuffed it right down our throats."
Defensively, the Midshipmen (3-4) stopped Pitt four times deep in its own territory, twice in each half, and the Panthers' Mark Brasco missed on field goal attempts of 47 and 36 yards.
Pitt (4-3) mustered only John Congemi's three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bob Lawson in the second quarter that tied the score at 7.
"I think we found ourselves," said linebacker and cocaptain Eric Fudge, who sacked Congemi for a loss of nine yards on third and goal with 3:06 left in the game. "We just played them tough. We came together and grew up today."
This was a woebegone Navy team that had lost three of its games by a total of eight points and was playing without its top two fullbacks, John Berner (sprained knee) and Chuck Smith (sprained ankle), and top two receivers, Tony Hollinger (sore hip) and Mike Ray (pulled hamstring).
But the Midshipmen, forced to dig deep into their depth chart, found a considerable reserve of heart and ability.
Among those who probably should be bronzed and set in an Annapolis courtyard was Erich Sauerbrey, the third-string fullback playing with a separated shoulder.
Sauerbrey gained 35 yards on five attempts and caught three passes for 22 yards, all on important occasions. Third-string flanker Troy Saunders had four receptions for 68 yards and a 25-yard gain on a reverse that set up Byrne's score.
A primary reason for the victory, however, was an outweighed offensive line that pushed lumbering Pitt up and down the field. A team that had held opponents to 56 yards rushing a game gave up 193 yards to the Midshipmen, who were smart enough not to run directly at the Panthers but used a variety of motion and misdirection plays.
"We said we were going to block them for three quarters and then go in the fourth quarter and kick their butts," offensive linemen Chris Castelli said. "That's what we did."
Pitt was supposed to be a tailback-oriented offense, with a standout sophomore in Charles Gladman, who had 695 yards coming in. He gained 96 yards on 19 carries, but the Panthers were forced to pass -- something they have not done well -- after Navy took the lead. Congemi completed 15 of 29 for 189 yards and two interceptions, one of his better days all year.
Byrne (16 for 25 for 165 yards) effectively put Pitt away when he scored on Navy's first possesion of the second half to make it 21-7. "That was the real Bill Byrne today," he said.
The Midshipmen went 62 yards on that drive in nine plays and dug themselves out of a hole after a sack of Byrne for 14 yards and an offsides penalty gave them third and 24 at their 24. But Byrne completed a spectacular 39-yard pass to Saunders.. On the next play, Saunders went 25 yards on the reverse to get to the 12.
"He may have turned the game around," Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said. "That catch and that reverse may have done it."
McCallum picked up a first down on fourth and inches with a leap at the Pitt two, and on the next play Byrne fooled Pitt with a bootleg play for the score after a fake dive to McCallum. It so delighted Byrne that he lay on the ground and kicked his legs.
The Midshipmen took a 14-7 lead by halftime. Navy played like Pitt was supposed to, while Pitt, quite frankly, played like Vassar. The Midshipmen had possession for 12:35 of the first quarter.
Navy ate up exactly half of the first quarter as Byrne led a 16-play, 85-yard drive, finished off by McCallum's one-yard dive. Byrne completed passes to Sauerbrey for 11 yards on third and four at the Navy 21, and to Saunders for eight on third and four at the Pitt 10.
Navy gave Pitt an important break a series later. The Midshipmen, after Tom Metzger's interception of Congemi at the Navy 37, could not move and punted. Teryl Austin returned it 74 yards, all the way to the Navy 11.
Pitt scored three plays later, Congemi rolling out and finding tight end Lawson all alone in the back of the end zone with 3:21 left in the period.
Two plays later, Navy got an important break. From his 21, Byrne threw across the middle to John Lobb. The ball went off Lobb's hands and into those of Austin, who returned the interception 33 yards to the Navy seven. But he fumbled as he went down and guard Mark Miller recovered for the Midshipmen.
Navy put together another superb drive, this one its longest of the season. The Midshipmen went 93 yards in 12 plays, helped by an interference call on Austin that gave them a first down at their 46. Another key play was a 23-yard run by fourth-string fullback John McKenna to the Pitt 35.
Two plays later, McCallum scored on his six-yard run with 12 minutes left in the half.
"I didn't have to do much today," McCallum said. "Everyone played well and it all fell into place . . . There were a lot of high expectations at the beginning of the season and maybe we were worried about being good. Today we played to have fun, and we did."