Navy 34, Delaware 20
The formation is called "Heavy," and it reeks of sandlot football: A wide receiver lines up as a tackle on one end of the line, with two tackles next to each other on the other side.
Navy used the formation, and some hard running by senior fullback Kyle Eckel, to win its first homecoming game since 1998 with a 34-20 victory yesterday over Delaware before a sellout crowd of 34,416 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Eckel finished with 143 yards and one touchdown; his 44-yard run late in the third quarter was the team's longest this year and the longest of his career.
Navy (7-1) finished with 366 yards rushing. Eckel got many of those yards on fullback option pitches behind the unbalanced offensive line, moves Navy Coach Paul Johnson made at halftime.
"They were playing man-to-man on the option," Johnson said. "When you play man-to-man, you don't have enough guys [on defense] if you pitch to the fullback."
It was the 11th-most rushing yards Delaware has given up in its history. Navy has four of those 11 performances.
"We ran [the unbalanced line] a lot today," said Amir Jenkins, a 208-pound wide receiver who lined up at tackle for much of the game. "Usually on offense, if we're having success with something we keep running it. It was working really well."
Delaware (6-2), the defending Division I-AA champion, trailed 14-10 early in the second half when it downed a punt at the Navy 1-yard line. The Midshipmen went on a 12-play drive, culminating with a one-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Aaron Polanco for a 21-10 lead with 6 minutes 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
Included in the drive was a 26-yard completion from Polanco to Jenkins (Sidwell Friends), who had lined up at tackle.
Navy forced a punt, then put the game away on its next possession. Eckel gained 44 yards on the first play, a fullback option behind the unbalanced line. Polanco kept the ball on an option on the next play, also behind the unbalanced line, and gained 13 yards.
Delaware then called timeout. But three plays later, Polanco scored on a seven-yard run for a 27-10 lead with 2:08 left in the third quarter.
"We went on that 99-yard death march, held them and then went 80 yards," Johnson said. "I felt at that point we were in pretty good shape."
Said Delaware Coach K.C. Keeler: "They wore us down. We made adjustments at halftime, but Coach Johnson made some after that. . . . They just grinded on us the entire second half."
Eckel was a big reason for that. The 240-pound fullback was touted enough in the preseason that several NFL scouts have either attended Navy practices or asked for film of him.
Opposing defenses, however, also know a bit about Eckel and had geared their schemes toward stopping him. Eckel's single-game high this year was 102 yards entering yesterday.
By the eighth game last year, he had four games with more than 102 yards.
"The offensive line played a great game," Eckel said. "Losing on homecoming is one of the things that sets sparks off. It was motivating."
Polanco added 64 yards rushing and completed 8 of 11 passes for 95 yards and one touchdown. Delaware quarterback Sonny Riccio, a transfer from Missouri, completed 30 of 50 passes for 255 yards; junior wide receiver David Boler, a transfer from Southern California, had 16 receptions for 153 yards. His 16 catches tied a school record and set a stadium record.
Delaware has been a nemesis of Navy's for years. The Blue Hens had won six of the previous 11 meetings dating from 1985 and defeated Navy, 21-17, on homecoming last year. They led by 23 at the half of a 37-21 victory in 1992, rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit in a 29-25 win in 1991 and benefited from a missed 28-yard field goal attempt by Navy in the final seconds of a 10-9 win in 1989.
In 1985, Napoleon McCallum became Navy's all-time leading rusher in a game against the Blue Hens, who nonetheless won, 16-13.
"I can't stand these guys in the first place," Navy senior co-captain Josh Smith said. "It's definitely satisfying to get them back."