PHILADELPHIA -- They swarmed to the center of Veterans Stadium as the final gun sounded, dancing, screaming and embracing anything and everything within reach. Before yesterday, the Navy football team hadn't won in more than a year. When it finally happened -- and against its biggest rival, Army -- it was clear the team had remembered how to celebrate.
It was a season that long may be the reference point as the worst start in Navy football history, but yesterday it ended in joy and jubilation, as Navy dominated Army, 24-3, before a sellout crowd of 67,858.
"This is the greatest win I could ever imagine because of all that we went through this season," said Navy quarterback Jim Kubiak. "It feels so good -- I just don't know how to describe it."
Well, here's the description: Defensively, Navy held a team whose 304 yards a game rushing ranked third in the nation, to 182 yards on the ground. And offensively Navy, alternating two quarterbacks throughout the game, kept a veteran Army unit off balance. It was a good way to shake off the embarrassing chants of "oh and 10, oh and 10" that filled the stadium from the Army side of the field when the Navy team entered the stadium.
"I thought we executed well -- we ran enough to keep them honest, and we threw enough to keep them honest," said Navy coach George Chaump, who, for once after a game this season, had a reason to smile. "We also had a good defense and a good kicking game. For the first time this year, it all came together."
Which was a rarity for a team that this year often suffered its biggest lapses at the most crucial times. Through 10 games Chaump had to look on in frustration as opposing players made big play after big play. But yesterday, it was the Navy players who, one by one, stepped up to make the big effort.
Like Jason Van Matre who, in splitting time at tailback and quarterback, rushed for one touchdown (he rushed 25 times for 89 yards) and passed for another (he completed his only pass for a 12-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter). Like linebacker Byron Ogden, who, in his last game had 15 tackles -- the biggest a huge blow that stopped Army fullback Callian Thomas on fourth-and-one in Navy territory early in the fourth quarter. Like Chad Chatlos, who had two interceptions, the second that he returned 58 yards to set up a field goal. And like Rodney Purifoy, who in the first half played defensive back the way its supposed to be, nailing three Army runners behind the line of scrimmage.
"I hadn't played what I thought was a whole game this year," said Purifoy who, as a tailback, scored a touchdown in Navy's win over Army two years ago. "This was one of my better defensive performances."
As dominated as it was, Army actually led the game as Patmon Malcom kicked a 39-yard field goal that capped a seven-minute drive and gave the Cadets a 3-0 lead after their opening series.
But Navy, despite not scoring first on its opening drive for just the fourth time this season, was on the verge of playing its most solid half of football.
On its second drive, Kubiak threw 44 yards to B.J. Mason, putting Navy at the Army 19. Five plays later, Van Matre, who moved to quarterback after the Mason catch, scored on a 3-yard run and Navy led, 7-3, early in the second quarter.
Navy's second score came when Billy James scored on a 5-yard run with 1:17 left in the half for a 14-3 lead.
For Navy this year, two touchdowns in a quarter is an explosion. But the credit had to go to the Navy defense, which got its best effort in a half against the rush by holding Army to 74 yards (the previous best was 126 yards by Air Force).
"They caught us a couple of times totally overcommitted to the run," said Army coach Bob Sutton. "We had several mental breakdowns that hurt us badly. They did a good job of executing and we didn't get it done on offense."
Forced to play catch-up with its running attack negated, Army never was able to get back in the game. With an offensive unit that entered the game ranked last among the 106 Division I-A teams in passing, Army quarterback Myreon Williams was able to complete just two of 10 passes in the second half and four of 13 overall.
Navy's offense faltered in the third quarter, but Van Matre's 12-yard pass to Kevin Hickman and Tim Rogers' 31-yard field goal -- both in the fourth quarter -- put the game out of reach, and helped set off a Navy victory celebration that had been saved all season.
"It was the most important game of my career, that's how I felt about it," Chaump said. "No coach wants to go through a season without a win.
"To win an Army-Navy game is a great feeling," said Chaump, who lost in his debut last year. "To be a winner is a thrill. I remember last year the low -- the high this year is much better."
Especially for the Navy seniors who, instead of the 10 straight losses, will remember 1991 as the year that they ended their football careers with a win over Army.
And it will be an even more special memory for senior offensive guard Michael Davis, who, when Navy defeated Army two years ago at the Meadowlands, was watching the game at the !B Bethesda Medical Center while recovering from knee surgery. He had a severely sprained foot yesterday, but played much of the game.
"It feels great, a lot better than watching it on TV and not being a part of it," Davis said. "My foot really hurt me. But I wasn't going to miss this. Not again."