ANNAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be Navy's coming out, a game against Division I-AA William & Mary that was expected to produce a win and show the home fans that the previous close game against Virginia was no fluke.
So much for Navy progress.
The visiting Tribe put together two long second-quarter scoring plays for a 26-21 win that was not as close as the final score indicated.
Instead of an improved team, the 23,697 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium saw a team that failed to make the big plays against a smaller opponent. It marked the seventh straight season that Navy has lost to a I-AA opponent, and left its record against I-AA teams during the past five years at 10-10.
An upset? Hardly. The Tribe (2-1) is ranked No. 11 in the I-AA poll and entered the game fifth in the nation in passing offense (328.5 yards per game). Navy hasn't accumulated that much passing yardage in three games.
"I don't know where to start," Navy coach George Chaump said. "I hope I've been around this game long enough to know what helps you win and what causes you to lose. And I hope I've been here long enough and I'm smart enough not to publicly get in hot water by saying it."
Navy was simply outplayed by a William & Mary team that had a better offense and made the big plays. And once again, Navy was unable to move the ball through the air. Quarterbacks Jason Van Matre and Brian Ellis combined to complete just 12 of 23 passes for 105 yards.
As it did against Virginia, Navy started the game with a scoring drive -- an 18-play, 80-yard march that took 6 minutes, 15 seconds. It was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Brad Stramanak (his third touchdown) for a 7-0 lead. The Midshipmen led, 7-3, at the end of the quarter.
After Van Matre was intercepted on the fourth play of the second quarter, William & Mary responded. Quarterback Chris Hakel (16 of 21, 220 yards, two touchdowns) threw a short pass to backup tailback Alan Williams (five catches, 111 yards), who danced through would-be Navy tacklers for a 67-yard scoring reception, giving the Tribe a 10-7 lead.
After forcing a punt on Navy's next possession, starting tailback Robert Green took a handoff from Hakel along the left side and could have skipped through all the daylight on his 79-yard touchdown run that gave William & Mary a 17-7 lead with 4:41 left in the half.
"Those two big plays I like to think are uncalled for -- you just don't see big plays in modern-day football, and you saw two today," Chaump said. "It's just good athletes outrunning kids that aren't as good. That's what I saw out there."
Van Matre completed six of 12 passes for 56 yards in the first half, which left Chaump considering bringing in Ellis to start the second. He opted to stick with Van Matre, who scored on an 8-yard run on Navy's first second-half possession to pull the Midshipmen to within 17-14. It was the first time this season Navy had scored in the second half.
But William & Mary got a 37-yard field goal on its next series to make it 20-14, and in the fourth quarter Hakel threw a 10-yard scoring pass to tight end Michael Locke to make it 26-14. Navy's offense did nothing after the first series of the second half, with the only other score coming when Navy defensive back George Chatlos recovered a fumble and ran 22 yards to make it 26-21 with 1:13 left. An onside kick was recovered by William & Mary.
"When we took the ball and scored to start the second half, we felt we could still have a chance to win the game," said Chaump on why he didn't bring in Ellis sooner. "You still have to win the game on both sides of the ball."
It was William & Mary's first win over a I-A opponent since 1987, when the Tribe beat Navy in Annapolis, 27-12.
"It was a heck of a win -- any time you go against a I-A team, that's a heck of a way to get it," said William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock. "They gambled on defense, and you just have to take advantage. We hoped we would pop a big one, and we popped a couple."
That year that Navy lost to William & Mary also marked the last time the Midshipmen started a season 0-3. They went on to lose their first five games and finished 2-9. With Bowling Green and Air Force next on the schedule, 0-5 doesn't seem far off.
"We just don't seem to have the big-play ability to bail us out," Chaump said. "We haven't made the big play, especially in the air. We just have to keep getting better -- it takes a lot to get going.
"We still have a season to go, we're not going to cash in our chips yet," said Chaump, who may be heading for his worst college season (he was 4-6 at Indiana, Pa., in 1982). "We're going to do everything we can to salvage this and pull this together."