ANNAPOLIS -- In most cases, homecoming games are set up as victories over less-able opponents. The bigger the blowout, the better time is had by the home team's fans, as well as by the players and coaches.
So is there anything worse for a Division I-A team than a loss to a I-AA opponent on homecoming? Not for Navy, which hopes that history doesn't repeat itself today against James Madison at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"It was pretty embarrassing," senior linebacker Bill Bowling said of last year's 24-20 loss here to the Dukes.
Despite the final score, it was also pretty decisive. Behind the power running of 245-pound fullback Willie Lanier, James Madison gained 334 yards on the ground. Drives of 64 and 74 yards early in the fourth quarter gave the Dukes a 24-14 lead.
There were reasons the Midshipmen were literally run over. Injuries had hobbled their defensive line, forcing Navy to go with an extra linebacker or defensive back, instead of a nose guard. It left a gaping hole right up the middle of the field.
"We don't want to give the fullback a chance to get going for 5 or 6 yards," said first-year Navy coach George Chaump. "We have to stop him at the line."
Though he wasn't around to witness last year's debacle against the Dukes, Chaump is aware of what happened. And with a chance still there for a winning season, he doesn't want it to happen again.
"I don't think you can forget," he said.
Certainly his players remember what losing to the Dukes felt like. But even for a team that lost seven other games, the JMU defeat was the one that stuck with the players throughout the off-season. "I think it's going to add a little incentive," said Bowling.
This year it's the offense that comes into homecoming with significant bumps and bruises. More precisely, it's flanker Jerry Dawson (sprained knee) and fullback Kwame Moultrie (sprained ankle).
Dawson, who caught a career-high seven passes two weeks ago against Akron, appears to be ready, but the status of Moultrie, who gained 103 yards against the Zips, was listed yesterday as questionable.
Exactly who is going to pass to Dawson, or take snaps from center, isn't certain, since Chaump said he wasn't going to decide between quarterbacks Alton Grizzard and Gary McIntosh until right before the 1:30 p.m. kickoff. They likely will split time.
"They're both doing a good job," Chaump said. "So, my thinking is to keep things the same."
Considering next week's meeting with No. 2 Notre Dame at Giants Stadium, Navy (3-3) certainly has a chance to build some confidence with a victory over James Madison (4-3). The Dukes were on a four-game winning streak before losing their homecoming game last week against Youngstown.
"We've been up there two years in a row, so our kids have been through the homecoming ceremonies, the 30,000 fans, all those intangibles," said JMU coach Joe Purzycki. "We can't control Navy's emotions. We just have to worry about controlling our own."