It's homecoming tomorrow for Navy in a 1:30 p.m. kickoff against the visiting James Madison Dukes (4-3) at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
Ask any player, coach, athletic director or university administrator what is the one game in a football season that you must not lose. The answer will always come up, "the homecoming game," with the possible exception at the Naval Academy where "the Army game" is still right up there.
Nevertheless, with alums coming in from all over the world for this one -- many with visions of Middie gridiron glory days -- James Madison has received the attention of the entire Naval Academy football program this week.
Ask any coach, player or devoted team supporter what football game that it would be just super to win, with the possible exception of one with a traditional rival or on their own homecoming, and the answer would be "an opponent's homecoming game." After all, "they scheduled us as an easy win to show off in front of the old grads, particularly grad donors." No red-blooded competitor needs a coach's pep talk in this one on either side.
Well, the aforementioned doesn't exactly hold true in its entirety tomorrow. James Madison, for instance, is one of the nation's better Division I-AA teams, and besides, it licked the Mids last year, 24-20. But, it is homecoming nevertheless, and the Dukes aren't exactly Virginia or even Air Force.
Homecoming at the service academies, above and beyond the game itself, is uniquely and sentimentally different. After all, their graduates have lived through wars and rumors of wars together, shared experiences in all corners of the globe, moved families together on countless occasions, and in tragedies have clung together. For instance, just try to imagine what will be going on in the minds of the reunion class of 1940 tomorrow, their 50th.
But, indeed, there will be an important football game, and the Mids can envision their first winning season since 1982 with a victory over the Dukes.
The visitors from Harrisonburg, Va., coached by Joe Purzycki (50-45-3), still sport the same backfield that ultimately broke Navy's heart a year ago. Running out of the multi-bone offense, sophomore quarterback Erik Williams led a rushing charge that rolled up 334 yards on the ground, with fullbacks Willie Lanier (6-foot-2, 245 pounds) going 114 yards on 19 carries, including one touchdown. Lanier is seventh in career rushing for James Madison with 1,401 yards before last week's game. Along with another fine running back, Mike Campbell, even the place-kicker that hurt Navy in 1989, Johnny Perez, has returned.
The Dukes are another team that will outweigh the Mids at all stations.
The offensive line and linebackers weigh in at an average of 251 pounds per man. This is one big team, and coach George Chaump will be thinking about how to open up the Mids' offense against an opponent that lines up almost as big as a NFL team.
There is good news on the injured-list front at Navy. Linebackers Tony Domino (shoulder separation), Deeke Ingraham (pinched neck nerve), flanker Jerry Dawson (sprained knee), guard Andy Kirkland (strained knee), fullback Kwame Moultrie (bruised thigh) all will return to game action. But there is still a question whether Beck and Ingraham will be really ready to go at full speed.
Quarterback Alton Grizzard needs just five yards to join an elite group of 2,000-plus yard rushers that include Eddie Meyers (1978-1981), Napoleon McCallum (1981-1985) and Cleveland Cooper (1972-1974). The big ground gainer two weeks ago in the Akron victory was Kwame Moultrie, who rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries. The last Navy back to rush for 100 yards or more in a game was Chuck Smith in 1987 against VPI.
Navy's all-purpose running speedster is Jerry Dawson, ranking 16th in the nation in all-purpose running (receptions, punt returns, kickoff returns) with an average of 144.5 yards per game.
A variety of exciting happenings are planned tomorrow at the stadium in addition to the game. Parachute jumping into the stadium, the noon Brigade march-on, class reunion tent gatherings and tailgate parties will add to the festivities of the day.
Navy's lightweights (2-1) dropped a tough one to Princeton last week, 7-6. They go to Cornell at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. . . . Toledo, which entertains Navy on Nov. 10, finally dropped one at Central Michigan after six straight wins. . . . After soundly whipping Villanova, Yankee Conference threat Delaware (at Navy Nov. 17) ran into a hornets' nest at nationally ranked Massachusetts last week.
A sobering note: Coach Chaump warns that "we have to reverse the turnover jinx that has plagued us the last three games." . . . Two Mids made the ECAC Division I-A All-East honor roll last week in fullbacks Kwame Moultrie and linebacker Brad Brown. . . . Tomorrow's game ends the football series with James Madison.
After a lull of eight years, old rival William and Mary will appear for the 42nd time on the Navy schedule in 1991. . . . Gulp! Virginia is there through at least 1993, as is Notre Dame. . . . In spite of the difference in strength, Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel remarks that "the team likes to play Notre Dame."
What former Navy coach won the most games at Navy (55) -- and lost the most (46)? Answer: Virginia's George Welsh.
Earl Schubert, a freelance writer, is a Baltimore native who lives in Annapolis. A former football coach, he was a secondary school administrator in Missouri and Montgomery County, and worked for 17 years as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education. His Navy "Blue and Gold" column appears every Friday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.