With West Virginia quarterback Marc Bulger sidelined with a broken finger, Navy found a ray of hope in its season.
Slotback Dre Brittingham ran for a career-high 124 of Navy's 388 rushing yards, and Tim Shubzda kicked a 29-yard field goal with 2 minutes 53 seconds left to lead Navy to a 31-28 win today over the struggling Mountaineers.
Navy quarterback Brian Broadwater led four touchdown drives of 80 yards, but it was Navy's defense that made the biggest impact.
Facing sophomore quarterback Brad Lewis (17 of 31, 172 yards), who was starting in place of Bulger, the Midshipmen (2-3) allowed a season-low 264 yards and stopped the Mountaineers (1-4) on 7 of 9 third-down conversions. The lowest yardage total by a Navy opponent last season was 383.
The clincher, however, came with 1:02 left. Five plays after safety Gary Lane's apparent interception was negated by a penalty, safety Chris Lepore picked off Lewis's deflected pass at the Midshipmen 24-yard line to seal the victory.
Following consecutive close losses to Boston College and Rice, today's result was a welcome change.
"I'm real excited about the way our kids found to win a close football game," Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "I thought our guys played their tails off. We can build on that as a team, and it's something we can springboard into [next week's game against] Air Force."
Said linebacker Shaka Martin: "The last few games have been so close. Today, the offense and defense just came out and played four quarters."
Navy racked up 471 yards and 30 first downs, often moving the ball at will against a defense that entered the game giving up an average of 30 points.
Defense has been the Mountaineers' weakness all season, and today was no different.
"Obviously we can't stop anyone if we can't tackle them," West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen said. "I never had any illusions that we'd be a great defensive football team, but I thought we'd be decent. I'm glad we've got an off week. Maybe we can beat 'open' next week."
Broadwater rushed for 110 yards and touchdowns of one, three and 11 yards. It was his passing early in the game, however, that set the tone.
Broadwater (6 of 13, 83 yards, one interception), threw four times in the first six plays, including completions of 12 yards to Brandon Rampani and 11 to Travis Williams.
Broadwater then capped a 16-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard run to give the Midshipmen a 7-0 lead 8:10 into the game.
It marked the fourth time in five games this season that Navy has scored a touchdown on its opening drive.
Broadwater left the game during Navy's second drive with what was announced as an injured right elbow after he was hit by linebacker Barrett Green. Broadwater was replaced by sophomore Brian Madden and the offense stalled until Broadwater returned midway through the quarter.
West Virginia tied the game on Brad Lewis's 17-yard pass to Anthony Becht, then, after stopping Navy fullback Marlon Terrell on fourth and one at the West Virginia 40, the Mountaineers took a 14-7 lead on Cooper Rego's three-yard run with 3:57 left in the half.
Navy answered as Broadwater again used passing plays to spread the defense, and the Midshipmen drove 80 yards in eight plays, capped by Raheem Lambert's two-yard run, tying the game 59 seconds before halftime.
Navy later took a 28-21 lead when Broadwater skirted through a gaping hole in the right side for an 11-yard touchdown, but West Virginia immediately answered with a 10-play, 58-yard scoring drive of its own.
Navy realized if it was to win, the defense had to make a stop.
"Defense has been the strong point of our team all year," Broadwater said. "They've kept us in games all year. Today, they made the big play at the end and won the game for us."