ANNAPOLIS -- It had all the makings of a satisfying afternoon: a warm and sunny day, a big crowd and an 18-point halftime lead that appeared hard to top. But this was Navy, and it was homecoming. And lately when those two come together, it adds up to defeat.
For the third straight year, Navy lost its homecoming. And for the third straight year it was to a Division I-AA visitor, as Delaware scored 22 straight points in the second half for a 29-25 win before 30,490 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Time to cancel homecoming? In Navy's case, it might be time to cancel the second half of games. For the seventh straight time, the Midshipmen (0-7) scored first and played well for the first half, only to be dominated in the final 30 minutes. Navy failed to score in the second half yesterday and has been outscored, 111-20, in second-half play this season (the Midshipmen hold an 85-82 first-half scoring advantage).
"We've tried everything from changing our eating habits to getting more sleep," said Jason Van Matre, the regular quarterback who started at tailback yesterday and scored the second touchdown, as Navy jumped out to a 19-0 lead. "I don't know what it is, but everything seems to go downhill in the second half. This was a classic case."
And a classic comeback for the Blue Hens (7-1), who were led by senior quarterback Bill Vergantino. Operating out of the wing-T, Vergantino completed all 11 of his passes in the second half -- including a 23-yard scoring pass past three defenders that found halfback Walter Hicks in the end zone for a 29-25 Delaware lead with 7:19 left in the game.
"It was a pretty tough pass to get in," said Navy cornerback Chris Hart. "With three guys around, it would seem someone would get a hand on it. But no one did."
The game appeared to be following the same story line of last year's game, when Delaware came back from a 24-3 deficit to take a 27-24 lead, only to watch Navy win the game with a scoring pass with 51 seconds left.
Starting its final drive yesterday from its 30-yard line, Navy drove to the Delaware 15. But a pass for negative yardage, a sack and an interception of a Jim Kubiak pass by linebacker Bob Wolford with 95 seconds left in the game ended any comeback hopes.
"We were thinking deja vu on the sidelines in the first half, but we were just happy it didn't turn out like last year," said Vergantino, who finished 20 of 26 for 239 yards and two touchdowns. "This feels great. For the second week in a row [Delaware beat Villanova last week], this is the most gratifying game of my life."
"When you're ahead and have a chance to go up more and you don't do it . . . a couple of things hurt," said Navy coach George Chaump, who has lost more games this season than in any year on any level of coaching. "We've had awful tough luck, and now we're 0-7. We had three or more opportunities to score, and we didn't."
The loss wasted a good performance by tailback Vinnie Smith who, in his second start, scored two touchdowns and gained 122 yards on 28 carries -- the best Navy rushing game since Alton Grizzard gained 168 in 1989.
But Chaump had Smith rush for the first 10 plays at one stretch late in the third quarter after having had success mixing plays up in the first half. On the sixth of those carries, Smith fumbled on the Delaware 43, leading to a 1-yard run by Delaware's Daryl Brown that -- with the two-point conversion -- cut the lead to 25-22.
"In your I-formation your tailback is going to get the ball a lot," Chaump said of going to Smith so much.
The play selection of the second half could best be described as conservative. Kubiak completed nine of 14 passes for 107 yards in the first half but six of nine for just 47 yards in the second half. Six of those passes were thrown during Navy's desperate final drive that ended with the interception.
"It was a carbon copy from last year, but this time we got the win," said Delaware coach Tubby Raymond, who seems to have his team ready for the I-AA playoffs. "I have a great deal of respect for Navy and George Chaump, and I feel badly nothing has gone for them this year. On the other side, we're happy for the resurrection from the dead."
And he can thank Vergantino.
"I think he's a quality quarterback, but on some plays we had him seem a whole lot better then he was," said Hart, one of many plebes getting considerable playing time for Navy. "Mental breakdowns, not fatigue, hurt. But it could have benefited us if we could have stayed off the field.
"This is embarrassing," Hart added. "But they're a top-notch I-AA opponent that could have played with any Division I school."
NOTES: The last time Navy won on homecoming was 1988, when it beat Yale, 41-7. . . . The 25 points were the most for Navy since last year's Delaware game. . . . The time Navy started 0-7 was 1948, and the team finished 0-8-1.