CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- After scoring a touchdown and running effectively in a 17-10 loss to Virginia on Saturday night, Navy fullback Brad Stramanak was asked whether there was any satisfaction playing tough against a team that was a 42-point winner over the Midshipmen a year ago.
"Can you really have success when you don't win?" Stramanak said. "It's a team game; you practice as a team and play as a team. I didn't have a good game -- if we don't win, my performance doesn't mean a thing."
The Midshipmen may not have gained a victory against the Cavaliers on Saturday, but they left Scott Stadium with a sense of satisfaction. Navy played even for a half when the two teams were tied at 10. But they were unable to get on the scoreboard in the second half, and Virginia got the eventual game-winning touchdown in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by quarterback Bobby Goodman, who was filling in for the injured Matt Blundin.
The defeat left Navy with an 0-2 record, but two games into the season, its performance indicates improvement compared with the same time a year ago. Granted that Virginia (1-1) is not the same without quarterback Shawn Moore (250 yards passing, four touchdown passes and two scoring runs against Navy last year) and wide receiver Herman Moore, the team still possesses the size and strength that such opponents normally use to dominate the smaller Midshipmen.
"They work their tails off, they play hard and they hit hard," coach George Chaump said. "I was proud of them, but I hope they grow up and start believing in themselves."
Third-down success was the key to Virginia's win. The team was 12 of 18 on third-down conversions, with many of them coming on third-and-long. The biggest came midway through the third quarter when Goodman completed a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Terrance Tomlin on third- and-10 to keep alive the drive that eventually led to the backup quarterback's first career touchdown. Also keys to the third-down success were the running of backs Nikki Fisher (20 attempts, 138 yards) and Terry Kirby (14 attempts, 88 yards).
Another area that Navy will have to work on to reach the next level is its passing game. Starting quarterback Jason Van Matre rushed for 52 yards, but completed just three of 10 passes for 28 yards before being relieved by Brian Ellis (one completion, 20 yards) on Navy's final series. Virginia's huge defensive front negated any Navy passing game.
"When they knew we were in a passing situation, they just came hard and put pressure on us," Chaump said. "I like to throw it when we have a chance to complete them."
If Navy continues to improve on its performance from Saturday -- the Midshipmen, uncharacteristically, committed no turnovers -- future results should be different.
"We have a good football team. We're young, we'll grow up and we'll get better," Chaump said. "That was about as hard as I've seen a team play, as far as hustle and going after the ball. We'll win games -- they'll come."