ANNAPOLIS, NOV. 17 -- Once again, it went down to the last minute. Once again, Navy left the opposition gasping.
Alton Grizzard's five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dave Berghult, on fourth down with 51 seconds left, provided a 31-27 victory over Delaware today. Coming just after a 14-10, last-minute success at Toledo, the result gave Navy (5-5) its first five-victory season since 1982.
Delaware (6-5) was left to contemplate six fumbles, an interception and a blocked punt that ruined a remarkable comeback in which the Blue Hens outgained Navy 466 yards to 293. Bill Vergantino completed 19 of 31 passes for 311 yards, with split end Darren Ferrell catching 11 for 189 yards, second best in Delaware history.
The winning touchdown climaxed a suspenseful 50-yard drive. The Midshipmen needed three inches on fourth down at the Delaware 24 and fullback Brad Stramanak, hit as he took the handoff, got it with no more than an inch to spare. Then Grizzard gained eight yards on a third-and-six keeper at the 19.
Berghult, who barreled over the right goal-line pylon after catching the winning pass, was ecstatic. But even more geared up for celebration were tailback Jason Pace and punter Jefferson Triplett.
Six minutes earlier, Pace had fumbled at the Delaware 5, with linebacker Mark Hite out of W.T. Woodson recovering for the Blue Hens. Navy's defense then stopped three Delaware plays to set the stage for the decisive drive.
Navy, which benefited from eight Delaware turnovers, built an early 24-3 lead and seemingly had the game under control until Triplett failed to get off a punt 2:37 before the half. He was tackled at the 15, and Delaware quickly scored on Vergantino's 16-yard run.
The Blue Hens took two timeouts while stopping Navy, forced another punt and drove 62 yards to score again, Vergantino hitting Ferrell with an 11-yard pass 37 seconds before the intermission.
"One play turns them around," said Navy Coach George Chaump. "We don't get the punt off and it leads to not only one but two touchdowns. That gave them a big breath of life. But it turned out to be a great, great win for us because of the way we did win. We had our backs to the wall and came back."
"I don't think anybody was happier than me when we scored," Triplett said. "It's so important for us to get a winning season. I committed a cardinal sin in looking up at the rush. When I saw the rushers, I hesitated. The same thing happened last year against Delaware."
Last year he who hesitated wound up lost, 10-9, and it appeared the Midshipmen were headed for another sour finish. Gaining momentum from the comeback, Delaware limited Navy to two first downs in the third quarter.
Three lost fumbles delayed the Blue Hens' inevitable tying touchdown, but it finally came in the last minute of the period, Vergantino passing to Ferrell for nine yards to end an 84-yard, six-play drive.
Navy had not turned over the ball in 11 quarters, but on the first play of the last period safety Jay Mirabelli picked off Grizzard's pass at the Navy 25 and carried it to the 19. That set up Mark Drozic's 30-yard field goal for a 27-24 lead.
"Even though we fell behind, I felt good when we had the wind in the last quarter," Chaump said. "Wind is still the biggest factor in a football game and the hardest to cope with."
All seven touchdowns were scored by the team with the wind at its back, Navy producing three in the first quarter after Drozic opened the scoring with a 25-yard field goal.
The big man for Navy as it built its early lead was outside linebacker Byron Ogden, a Lake Braddock High product who forced a fumble that was recovered at the Delaware 3, blocked a punt that wound up at the Delaware 10, intercepted a pass at the Navy 15 and recovered a fumble at the Navy 31.
"I don't think I've ever been part of four turnovers before," he said. "But we were a little tight on defense. I think we were concerned about the wing-T and maybe we weren't as aggressive as we should have been."
Grizzard tied Bill Byrne's 1984 school season record of 11 touchdown passes with two to Berghult. He also ran for one, a 23-yarder on Navy's first possession, freezing cornerback Tim Jacobs, from Eleanor Roosevelt High, with a fake to pitchman Pace.
Delaware, on its five first-period possessions, never started with better field position than its 21. On the third series, from his 20, Vergantino prepared to pitch the ball and Ogden whacked it loose, Mark Ellis recovering at the 3. Pace scored on second down for a 14-3 lead.
The Blue Hens were a yard shy on fourth down at their 45 and, after a delay penalty, Gene Vadas punted. Ogden blocked it and Anthony Cofield recovered at the 10. On second down, Grizzard hit Berghult with the pass that made it 21-3.