ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 24 -- The Naval Academy football team that lost to William and Mary and Lehigh at the beginning of the season didn't show up today at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Neither did the Pittsburgh team that defeated Notre Dame two weeks ago. The result was a game that the Midshipmen could have won -- and almost did.

However, a gadget play on a Panthers punt return, Navy's inconsistency on offense and a building with feet called "Ironhead" all conspired to leave the Midshipmen on the losing end of a 10-6 score.

"The first thing I want to make clear," Navy linebacker Mark Pimpo said, "is we are not content with losing. We played well, but not well enough to win. But if you had seen us in our first game and then come back and seen us today, you'd know that this was not the same team that opened the season."

The team that opened the season allowed William and Mary's Erick Elliott and Lehigh's Lee Blum to rush for more than 100 yards each. The team that played today allowed 6-foot, 260-pound Craig Heyward to rush for 140 yards, but he needed 37 carries and a line that averaged 265 pounds to do it.

Also, instead of allowing 387 yards total offense as they did against William and Mary or 346 as they did against Lehigh, the Midshipmen today allowed Pitt 203 yards -- Navy's best defensive effort in 47 games.

"A win is a win," said Heyward, "but we seem to play better against teams that are a lot better."

But as Navy Coach Elliot Uzelac said, "Our defense played phenomenally. To do that against a team with advantages in size and strength they had and a team that beat Notre Dame is tremendous. Our defense knocked them around pretty good. They are supposed to be this great team and Heyward is supposed to be a Heisman Trophy candidate, but we contained 'em. There were times when we stuffed 'em."

However, Uzelac added, "I don't want anyone here to think that I'm sitting here happy that we played well, but lost. We've gotta win. I'm proud of our determination and effort, but as I told them {the players}, we could have beaten this team and I don't think there's any doubt in their minds that they could have won this game."

If there were two plays that decided this game, one occurred with 9:15 left in the first half, the other with 3:12 left in the game.

With the score 7-3 and the ball on Navy's 13-yard line, Navy's Andy Mueck punted the ball to Pitt's 48, where Teryl Austin fielded it, started right but then handed off to Gary Richard on a reverse.

Richard sped toward the far side of the field and down the left sideline. He was finally knocked out of bounds after a 44-yard return that gave the Panthers the ball at Navy's 8.

The Midshipmen gave Heyward four yards, but then outside linebacker Ray Worthington dropped Heyward for a two-yard loss and Pitt quarterback Sal Genilla lined a pass over the middle off Pimpo's shoulder pads.

Jeff VanHorne kicked a 22-yard field goal, and Navy's defense -- which had given up a 16-play, 67-yard touchdown drive on Pitt's first possession -- was beginning to gain momentum.

"After that first series, even though they scored on us, we said when we got off the field, 'Hey, we can play against these guys. Let's get 'em,' " Worthington said.

The offense, meanwhile, struggled, although it closed within 10-6. With 10:01 to play, the Midshipmen drove from their 5 to Pitt's 27, where, on third and six, James Bradley gained two yards and, on fourth and four, quarterback Alton Grizzard was tripped up on an option keeper after gaining just one.

"I thought we had to have a touchdown there," Uzelac said.

The Midshipmen took the kickoff following Pittsburgh's touchdown and went from their 12 to a third down and four at the Panthers' 14. However, after having the break between the first and second quarters to discuss the call, Navy lost two yards on a broken play and five yards on an illegal procedure penalty and had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Ted Fundoukos.

Michael Hadley returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to Pitt's 35 and, with Heyward and Louis Riddick carrying the ball, moved to Navy's 38. Linebacker David Lowe then sacked Genilla for a nine-yard loss on third down and the Panthers had to punt.

"Coming into the season, I think everybody had questions about the defense," Lowe said, "about the new system, about having all new guys. Then, when William and Mary scored the first time they had the ball in that first game, we really began to wonder if it was going to work. But as time went on, we got better and we started dealing with things and we realized we can play with these people."

Navy kept the pressure on, forcing Pitt to punt four plays into the second half. The Midshipmen took over at their 27 and drove to a fourth and one at Pitt's 33. Grizzard came up to the line and called time. Again Navy conferred and, again, came up with a loss. This time, however, Pitt was offside, giving Navy a first down at the 28.

Grizzard, however, was called for grounding on first down and, on third down, a pass intended for Jon Neumann was just far enough behind him that Richard was able to knock the ball away. Fundoukos did convert on a 48-yard field goal and, with 9:12 left in the third quarter, Navy was within 10-6.

Genilla and Heyward presented Navy with a chance to get closer by blowing an exchange at Navy's 43. Navy's Mike Musser fell on the loose ball, but on third and seven at Pitt's 32, Grizzard lost 13 on a sack by safety Billy Owens and the Midshipmen had to punt.

"Any kind of offensive play," Uzelac said, "and we win this game."

Pittsburgh 7 3 0 0 10 Navy 0 3 3 0 6

P -- Heyward 1 run (VanHorne kick)

N -- FG Fundoukos 37

P -- FG VanHorne 22

N -- FG Fundoukos 48

A -- 29,169 Pitt Navy First downs 13 14 Rushes-yards 51-176 53-160 Passing yards 30 50 Return yards 87 12 Passing 5-11-0 3-9-0 Punts-average 6-34 6-39 Fumbles-lost 4-1 2-0 Penalties-yards 6-37 6-47 Time o

RUSHING -- Pitt: Heyward 37-140, Reddick 4-17, Walker 4-12, Genilla 5-4, Heard 1-3. Navy: C. Brown 21-72, B

PASSING -- Pitt: Genilla 5-11-0, 30 yards. Navy: Grizzard 3-9-0, 50.

RECEIVING -- Pitt: Williams 1-10, Steward 2-6, Reddick 1-7, Osborn 1-7. Navy: Hughes 2-36, Pace 1-14.