Much to its fans' relief, the young Navy team demonstrated last weekagainst a big Virginia squad that it could tough it out with a good Division I ballclub, even away from the friendly confines of Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
Navy led for a time and was threatening in the last two minutes before falling by a respectable 17-10 score. The most vociferous of Mid doubters must admit that this was an extraordinary improvement over the Ball State opener.
Coming in tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. will be an old opponent from Williamsburg, Va., the Tribe from William & Mary. They are coached by Jimmye Laycock, in his 11th year at the Division I-AA independent schoolwith a record of 68-56-2.
After walloping Boston University in their opener, they were upset by the Delaware Blue Hens last week, 28-21, for their first home-opener loss in 20 games.
The Tribe also was knocked from their No. 1 Division I-AA perch. Once again, the Mids meet a team smarting from a bitter defeat.
Navy leads in this series that began in 1923, 35-5-1. In their last match up, in 1987, the Mids were beaten, 27-12. For many years the two ballclubs were traditional opening-game opponents, with all games being played in Annapolis.
In tomorrow's game, Navy's beefed-up offensive line led by tackle Max Lane at 286 pounds and guards Carl Voss (281) and Mike Davis (283) will outweigh the Tribe's defensive alignment by 10 pounds per man, an unheard-of advantage for Navy.
Coach George Chaump's strategy against superior-manned Virginia was to stay mostly on the ground, eat up the clock and keep the Cavaliers' offense at a minimum. A morewide-open attack is likely tomorrow with quarterback Jason Van Matrelooking for flanker B.J. Mason, tight end Tony Gilless and freshman split end Tom Pritchard.
Navy's improving running attack, with tailback Duke Ingraham and fullback Brad Stramanak, is becoming a serious threat in a lineup that Chaump says is "rapidly maturing."
Probably the most significant improvement by Navy has been on defense where the Mids turned in a gutsy performance against a much bigger Virginia offensive squad.
A new Navy name appeared on the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division I-A All-East honor roll in outside linebacker Mark Ellis, a junior from Wakefield, Va., who was in on 15tackles Saturday -- six unassisted.
Along with fellow linebacker standouts Bob Kuberski, Byron Ogden and David Shaw, the defense is becoming formidable, particularly against the run.
Not a whole lot is being said or written about how young this team is. Six sophomores,and a freshman (Pritchard), are in the starting lineup, and seven juniors, with a flock of sophomore and four additional freshmen, are inback-up roles. This, of course, bids well for Navy's ongoing development.
In the wake of continuing references in some unenlightened quarters to Navy's so-called "softer" schedule, this corner is suggesting a more informed look at what Athletic Director Jack Lengyel has accomplished with the present and future schedules.
To begin with, there is nothing "soft" about Virginia, Temple, Notre Dame, Tulane and Wake Forest, who all play major Division I schedules, or even undefeated Air Force.
The Division II teams on this year's schedule areall serious powers in their own conferences or as independents.
Any reference to the Mid-American Conference being bush league was putto bed for keeps last Saturday when Central Michigan defeated Big Ten's Michigan State, 20-3, and Ball State lost in the final minutes tothe Southwest Conference's Texas Christian in Fort Worth, 22-16.
West Michigan, another MAC member, duked it out with No. 1 Florida State in Tallahassee before being run over in the second half last Saturday. So much for belittling Ball State and Bowling Green.
Boston College is back on the schedule in 1992, and it has replaced Notre Dame by most observers as having the toughest
schedule in the nation. Speaking of 1992, athletic/academics schools, such as Vanderbilt, Rice and Rutgers, appear, and future schedules include Southern Methodist, Duke and Colgate.
These are opponents befitting the athletic/academic philosophy of a higher education institution like the U.S. Naval Academy, and present, along with the traditional Army game, an exciting program that could put the Mids into bowl contention with successful seasons. But, of course, there could be no more losses to theJames Madisons of the world.
A feature of tomorrow's game program-- in recognition of POW/MIA Week -- will be a halftime tribute to America's prisoners of war and missing in action. The Mids march-on isscheduled for 1 p.m.
Earl Schubert, a free-lance writer, is a Baltimore native who lives in Annapolis. A former football coach, he wasa 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.