ANNAPOLIS -- On a day in which Navy's passing game was grounded, it took an effort from two backup running backs to save the Midshipmen from an embarrassing loss.
Running backs Jason Pace and Dominic Flis combined for 164 rushing yards, as the Midshipmen rallied yesterday to beat Villanova, 23-21, before 21,491 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Quarterback Alton Grizzard was presented the game ball for becoming Navy's all-time offense leader (he amassed 159 yards, to give him 4,553 for his career), but Pace (102 yards) and Flis (62 yards) led fourth-quarter drives that set up field goals of 37 and 36 yards by Frank Schenk. Villanova (1-2) dropped its second straight game.
"We resorted to good, old tough tactics of football today, because we had to," said Navy coach George Chaump. "It was good to see the line blocking. We did what we had to do to win."
The Midshipmen (2-1) had to abandon their passing game after a third quarter during which Grizzard completed one of eight passes. The Midshipmen entered the quarter leading, 17-14, but a 5-yard touchdown run by fullback Jeff Johnson early in the third quarter had given Villanova a 21-17 lead going into the final period.
"That third quarter, we got [no] points with some of the greatest field position we had all year," said Chaump. Navy's worst field position was its 31 -- and best the Villanova 49 -- during four drives. "We should have had at least three touchdowns."
Instead Chaump found his team behind, and turned the game over to the Navy runners. The adjustment came at the end of the third quarter, with Flis and Pace gaining 28 yards on a drive that carried into the final quarter and ended with a 36-yard field goal by Schenk that cut Villanova's lead to 21-20.
Pace and Flis combined for 23 yards on Navy's next drive, which resulted in Schenk's winning 37-yard field goal with 5 minutes, 52 seconds left in the game. The two worked a ball-control offense on Navy's final drive to eat up the final 3:30 and preserve the win.
"I was frustrated a little bit [in the third quarter], because I wanted the coaches to put it on the ground," said Pace, whose 102 yards on 27 carries established a career high. "But [Chaump] seemed to feel it was best to take advantage of the good field position and get in quick."
Pace, a 6-foot, 200-pound tailback, sparked Navy to its 14-0 lead with 27 yards on Navy's second drive, including his 7-yard touchdown out of the wishbone that helped Navy to a 7-0 lead with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
Rodney Purifoy scored from 4 yards out -- out of the wishbone again -- as Navy took a 14-0 lead with with 13:00 left in the half. A 1-yard run by quarterback Tom Colombo pulled the Wildcats to within 14-7 midway through the second quarter and, after Schenk's 34-yard field goal made it 17-7, Colombo hit flanker Greg Downs with a 32-yard touchdown pass just before the half that cut the Navy lead to 17-14.
"We had it 14-0, and I felt we could put it away," Chaump said. "They got some easy scores by getting behind our zone."
The Wildcats gained 287 yards in the air behind Colombo, his second straight 200-yard game. Chaump is concerned about opponents passing against Navy.
"We have to develop a tougher team personality," Chaump said. "We were upset the pressure on the quarterback wasn't as good as it could have been. We gave them life. But we did turn up our defensive intensity."
And Chaump may have found a running game. Navy won with what he described as "the least passing yardage I've had in years."
Grizzard was 12 of 25 for 88 yards. Pace and Flis had their best rushing performances at Navy -- particularly Flis, a senior fullback who had 18 yards on two carries for his career going into yesterday's game.
"I thought Flis played outstanding, especially when we needed tough yards in the last drive," Chaump said. "And Pace is remarkable because he gives everything he has all of the time. You have to admire him."
Navy was coming back from last week's 56-14 loss to Virginia.
"This week we were on Operation Recovery, and we did what we had to do," Flis said. "We're out to go 6-0 at home, and we're not going to let anybody come in and take a game from us."
Division I-A Navy has struggled in wins over Division I-AA Richmond and Villanova. That doesn't seem to bother Chaump.
"The thing I like the most is we did what we had to do when things weren't going our way," Chaump said. "I-AA is just a title. It's the team on the field that counts.
"I think we have to get better. We will have a super test against Boston College next week. They're 0-2 with a week off. Any team that has a week off comes back tough."
NOTES: Grizzard became the all-time offense leader on a 14-yard run in the first quarter, moving ahead of former quarterback John Cartwright (4,406 in 1965-67). . . . Grizzard's 71 yards on the ground gave him 1,930 in his career, moving him to fourth place on the Navy all-time list.