ANNAPOLIS -- It was a call that makes or breaks coaches -- a fourth down on the opponent's 5-yard line, trailing by three and less than a minute left. Facing that situation against Delaware yesterday, Navy coach George Chaump said it was a win-lose situation.
"I never thought of going for the [tying] field goal. We wanted to win," Chaump said. "It never entered my mind to kick."
Chaump's move paid off. Quarterback Alton Grizzard hit Dave Berghult with a 5-yard scoring pass with 51 seconds left, as Navy (5-5) defeated Delaware (6-5), 31-27, before 25,284 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. It was Navy's second straight victory.
It was the second week in a row that Navy pulled out a game in the final minute -- this time after blowing a 21-point, first-half lead. The late heroics gave Navy a shot at its first winning season since 1982 and may have saved Chaump from some second-guessing had the Midshipmen failed on the fourth-down attempt.
"I don't like to win that way," Chaump said. "You have to give credit to the quarterback and receiver on that final play."
After calling a timeout, Navy -- which played out of the wishbone formation much of the day -- lined up with Berghult on the right side of a two-tight-end set. Berghult (six catches, 44 yards) ran a slant pattern down the right side and caught the pass just beyond the front end-zone pylon for his second score of the day.
"At this point in the season, you can't play for a tie," said Berghult, whose second score was the 11th touchdown thrown by Grizzard this year, tying a Navy single-season record. "I was just looking to catch it and do something."
Navy scored three touchdowns in the first quarter on runs by Grizzard (23 yards) and Jason Pace (4 yards) and Berghult's first score (3-yard reception) to take a 21-3 lead. Navy had scored just 14 first-quarter points all year. The second and third scores came off turnovers by a Delaware team that lost six of seven fumbles, was intercepted once and suffered a blocked punt.
A Navy blowout appeared on the horizon, but a mental error by punter Jefferson Triplett allowed Delaware back in the game. Leading, 24-3, with less than three minutes to go in the half, Triplett failed to get a punt off and was tackled at the Navy 16. Two plays later, Blue Hens quarterback Bill Vergantino ran 16 yards for the score to cut the lead to 24-10 with 2 minutes, 25 seconds left.
Delaware would score again with 37 seconds left in the half when Vergantino (19 of 31 for 311 yards) hit Darrin Ferrell (11 catches, 198 yards, two touchdowns) with an 11-yard touchdown pass that got the Blue Hens within 24-17.
"I saw the rush on the punt and I just hesitated," Triplett said. "The same thing happened against Delaware last year. I didn't look up on any punts after that."
The Blue Hens had a chance to tie the game early in the second half, but Ferrell's fumble on the goal line after a 28-yard reception killed the drive. While Navy's offense was effected going into a strong wind, Delaware managed to tie the game when Ferrell caught a 9-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I wish we could have continued to play the way we started," Chaump said. "When you're down like that and come back, you're fired up. When a team comes back like that, they're dangerous."
It was Navy's turn to give the ball away in the fourth quarter, as Grizzard was intercepted on the Navy 19-yard line by Delaware's Jay Mirabelli -- the Midshipmen's first turnover in 12 quarters -- that led to a 30-yard field goal by Mark Drozic that put Delaware up, 27-24, with 13:25 left in the game. Navy drove to Delaware's 8 the next time it had the ball, but Pace fumbled with seven minutes left. Navy, however, would would score the winning touchdown on its next drive.
"I don't think anyone was happier then me," said Triplett, who also had problems punting into the wind. "It's important for us to go out with a winning season."
The win also put a positive light on Navy linebacker Byron Ogden, who caused a fumble, recovered a fumble, had a blocked punt an intercepted a pass -- all in the first half. Navy scored touchdowns after three of those four plays.
"I don't think I've ever been part of that many turnovers," said Ogden, who had four tackles. "We were playing tight at the end, and thinking more about responsibilities. That's how they got back in it -- they played well."
Delaware's outside shot at a Division I-AA playoff berth ended with the loss. It was the first time in four years that the Blue Hens, who had a 466-293 advantage in total yards, lost their finale.
"We just got deep in a hole -- we just made too many mistakes in the first quarter to win," said Delaware coach Tubby Raymond, who had won 20 of 24 season finales before yesterday. "We could have, and might have, but just didn't."
Navy will have three weeks off before playing Army at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium on Dec. 8. Against their biggest rival, the Midshipmen will have the added incentive of trying for their first winning season since 1982.
"It was a great win. We were behind and came back again," Chaump said. "I'm happy it puts the team at 5-5 going into the biggest game of their lives with a chance at a winning record."
NOTES: Navy's 24 first-half points are its most in a half this season. . . . For the first time since 1981, not counting season-ending games, Navy has won a regular-season game after beating a Division I-A team. Navy last did it by beating Syracuse, 35-23, and Georgia Tech, 20-14.