ANNAPOLIS -- While dozens of schools will celebrate homecoming today by running up big wins against opponent hand-picked for their vulnerability, Navy will spend this afternoon trying to win its first game of the season -- and its first homecoming game in three years -- against a nationally ranked ** team.
That team is Delaware (6-1), which visits Navy (0-6) at 1:30 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Blue Hens, whose only blemish is a 45-28 loss to New Hampshire, is ranked 11th in the nation in Division I-AA.
Navy's last homecoming win was in 1988, when the Midshipmen defeated Yale, 41-7. Since then the Midshipmen have lost two homecoming games to James Madison, last year by a score of 16-7.
The last time Navy won a game, it was against Delaware last year when then-quarterback Alton Grizzard threw a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Dave Berghult with 51 seconds for a 31-27 win.
"Last year, we should have won," said Delaware coach Tubby Raymond. "It was a good, competitive football game."
Competitive is exactly what the Blue Hens have been this season in getting off to their best start since 1982, when Delaware went 12-1 before losing in the I-AA championship game. Delaware's wing-T offense, run smoothly by senior quarterback Bill Vergantino, has averaged 31.9 points per game. Vergantino scored a school-record-tying four touchdowns (all in the first half) in last week's win over previously unbeaten Villanova.
"[Vergantino] has to be recognized as one of the better quarterbacks we've had," said Raymond, who has had two first-team all-American quarterbacks at Delaware. "He's a leader and he knows what we're doing. Our players certainly respond to him and look up to him as a leader."
Navy coach George Chaump will be seeking quarterback leadership from plebe Jim Kubiak, who is expected to make his second start this afternoon. Jason Van Matre hurt his throwing arm in the first series of the Temple game, and will possibly be the backup tailback.
Van Matre will be playing behind junior Vinnie Smith, a pleasant surprise in the Temple loss. Making his first career start, Smith carried 17 times for 87 yards -- a season high for Navy. Not bad for a guy who was sixth on the depth chart going into the season.
"I think I run a lot differently than the other runners here, probably because of my size," said Smith, 5 feet 10, 176 pounds, whose slashing style differs from the straight-ahead style preferred by the other Navy backs. "I try to avoid contact as much as possible. When I'm about to get hit I try to step away, instead of taking the pounding."
If Navy loses, the game would mark a milestone for Chaump -- a milestone he would prefer not to achieve. In his 10 years of college coaching, Chaump never has lost more than six games.
"I've never lost this many on any level," Chaump said. "The good thing is that we've been in all of our games, even against Air Force [a 46-6 loss]. This adversity is going to do one thing: It's going to make us better. We have to overcome it, and we have to overcome it as a team."
NOTES: The last time Delaware faced a winless team this late in the season was in 1984, when Morgan State left Delaware Stadium with a 76-0 loss that dropped the Bears to 0-9. . . . Navy FB Brad Stramanak hurt his knee and is doubtful.