ANNAPOLIS -- They came in with a new quarterback, a new offense, a new attitude and even played at a new time -- at night -- in order to attract new fans.
But in the end, it was the same old result for the Navy Midshipmen, as poor defense and mistakes on offense led to a 33-10, season-opening loss to Ball State before 22,661 last night at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The loss was a big disappointment for Navy coach George Chaump, who thought his team was ready to get a firm grasp of his system.
"Everybody's highly disappointed. I truly thought we could do a lot better then what we showed," Chaump said. "Mistakes made by inexperience seemed to come out."
The only thing new Navy had a hand in last night was the creation of a new star. Ball State running back Corey Croom rushed 28 times for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Croom, who started just two games last year and whose previous career rushing high was 73 yards, scored on runs of 2, 60 and 4 yards and had gained more than 100 yards in a little more than 17 minutes.
Croom's performance was the key to a big turnaround for a Ball State team that recorded a net total of minus-8 yards rushing in last week's 15-7 loss to Miami (Ohio) University. Croom had 11 carries for 26 yards in that game. Ball State finished with 49 rushes for 276 yards.
"I thought they were a good team despite the [Miami] loss, and they proved they're good to come back like this," Chaump said. "They had a good defense, their backs ran hard and their quarterback was poised. They came up with big plays when they had to, something we failed to do."
Four turnovers hurt Navy, with the most crucial coming with 6 minutes, 1 second left in the third quarter. Navy, trailing 21-10 at the time, drove to the Ball State 1. But Jason Van Matre, named the starter at quarterback just before the game, fumbled the snap on second-and-goal, and Ball State linebacker Don Stonefield recovered in the end zone.
The Midshipmen went flat the rest of the game.
"That [fumble] was probably more crucial then anything," Chaump said. "We busted assignments twice, we had penalties twice that took us out of drives -- a lot of the youthfulness came out."
Perhaps the only thing positive the Midshipmen can take from the game is the way it moved the ball against a Ball State team that finished second in the nation in defense last season (222 yards per game). Navy had 209 yards in total offense by halftime -- and finished with 288. But the difference was Ball State's ability -- especially Croom -- to make the big plays when it had to.
"Croom had a good game, and he is a good back -- he showed he can run," Ball State coach Paul Schudel said. "The team Navy scouted last week wasn't the real Ball State football team. We didn't put one thing in different from last week. We just executed better."
Navy began the game with a variation of the run-and-shoot offense -- four wide-outs and one back -- but but Van Matre was intercepted on the first play of the game and faced constant pressure all game.
"I tried to help him [by passing] on the first play because he was nervous," Chaump said of Van Matre, who is a good runner. "Jason Van Matre is a competitive athlete, and I figured he would bounce back."
Using a no-huddle offense on its second drive, Navy managed to drive to the Ball State 30 before being forced to punt. But the Midshipmen caught a break on the next Ball State drive when a bad snap forced punter Damon Keller to run, and he was stopped well short of a first down. Taking over at the Ball State 18, the Midshipmen got in position for a 26-yard field goal by freshmen Tim Rogers for a 3-0 lead with 4:20 left in the quarter.
The Cardinals' response was immediate. Croom led the way on a six-play, 66-yard drive with a 36-yard run, and two plays later scored from the 2, as Ball State took a 7-3 lead with 2:09 left in the quarter.
On Ball State's next possession, Croom found an opening and went 60 yards for another touchdown.
Navy came back with an 11-play, 84-yard scoring drive capped by a 4-yard run touchdown by fullback Brad Stramanak to make it 14-10 with 4:47 left in the half.
Navy's defense stepped forward on the next series, as Mark McGinnis picked off a Mike Neu pass, but Navy gave it right back six plays later when a Van Matre pass was intercepted by Malawi Hills, who returned the ball to the Navy 24. Neu found split end Mike LeSure for an 11-yard scoring pass to give Ball State a 21-10 lead that held until halftime.
Ball State got a touchdown by Croom, a field goal and a safety for the only scoring in the second half.
"We have a big challenge ahead," said Chaump, whose team next week faces Virginia, a 17-6 loser to Maryland yesterday. "We have teams on our schedule just as good as Ball State, and even better. This is a real challenge. This will tell what we're made of."
NOTES: Plebe Tom Pritchard started at wide receiver, marking the first time in the post World War II era that a true freshman started an opening day for Navy.