As the cannon blast signaled the end of the game and the roar of the crowd filled the stadium, Navy defensive end Grover Favors dived headfirst into the turf at midfield. Cornerback Chris Hart pumped both fists repeatedly. Linebacker Javier Zuluaga looked as if he would cry.
On a Saturday in which coach George Chaump finally managed to smile, Navy played its most inspired game of the season and was rewarded with a 20-17 win over Tulane before 21,912 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
With the victory, Navy (1-7) is no longer the only winless football team in Division I-A.
"After weeks and weeks of not wanting to read the papers the next day, you want to get up and go to work," said Chaump.
"This is the first time in months I'll be able to sleep at night."
Sleep last night for Chaump was not guaranteed until a controversial no-call that ended Tulane's final series.
Trailing, 20-17, with less than two minutes remaining, Tulane freshman quarterback Bob Aylsworth (19 of 27 for 218 yards) passed to wide receiver Wil Ursin on fourth and 13 from the Navy 29.
There was contact on the play as the legs of both Ursin and Hart collided.
But in a game in which 13 penalties were called for a total of 130 yards, no flag was thrown, and Navy had its first victory.
"The guy was in back of me and ran straight through me," said Ursin, who removed his helmet after the play and pleaded with the officials.
"There shouldn't have been a question about the call."
Asked whether there was contact, Hart replied: "I don't know."
But the sophomore was glad to be in a position to defend the play.
"I really couldn't play tight [on Ursin] because of the zone we were playing," Hart said.
"[At the end] we were in man to man. It was my chance to be on him as tight as I could possibly be.
"As soon as he made his break, I made mine," Hart said. "As soon as I broke I caught a cramp in my calf. I hit the ball at the last minute. It was a great feeling."
A tight, aggressive defense was the key for Navy, which has been hurt by the big play all season.
The Midshipmen did allow several big plays that contributed to all of Tulane's points and did allow Aylsworth -- making his first start -- to roll up impressive numbers. But on the whole the defense played probably with more emotion than it has all season, racking up six sacks for a loss of 66 yards for Tulane.
"The coaches and players all emphasized [emotion] all week," said Zuluaga, who had three sacks and eight tackles.
Navy got off to a rare good start, which began when tailback Duke Ingraham carried through the middle for 36 yards to the Tulane 16-yard line on the game's first play from scrimmage. Navy did not score a touchdown, but Tim Rogers kicked a 27-yard field goal for the team's first, first-quarter points of the season and a 3-0 lead.
After falling behind, 7-3, Navy came back with its biggest series. After a 23-yard run by Jason Van Matre gave Navy a first-and-goal at the 8, the Midshipmen failed on three attempts to score.
On fourth-and-goal at the 2, Chaump decided to try for a touchdown instead of a field goal. The result: a 2-yard touchdown pass from Van Matre to a wide-open Kevin Hickman and a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
"It was early, and I thought we had to do something," Chaump said. "We're in no position to be routine. When you're down and you have to do something unique, you just have to do it."
Navy did something unique on its next drive, scoring again as Tom Pritchard caught a pass down the right sideline, put a spin move on a defender and hot-dogged it into the end zone for a 16-yard scoring pass.
At halftime, Navy led 17-10, shaking its season-long habit of poor first halfs.
"Before the game we talked about first-half play and third-down stoppage," Chaump said.
"We wanted to accomplish them both."
A 12-yard touchdown run by Tulane's Chance Miller -- on third down -- tied the score at 17 four minutes into the third quarter. At the end of the quarter, Navy again led, 20-17, on a 22-yard field goal by Rogers.
The closest Tulane got was the drive that ended with Hart and Ursin entangled.
"The defense played a hell of a game," said Van Matre, who had seven completions in 13 attempts for 101 yards.
"For a while we didn't know if we could pull it out. But we never gave up. It's tough on Mondays when you lose seven straight weeks. This week will be nice."
Afterward, the expression on the faces of the coaches told the story. First-year Tulane coach Buddy Teevens, his back to a wall outside the Tulane locker room, had a pained expression as he tried to explain his team's effort.
"We didn't play good enough to win," Teevens said.
"They pressured us frequently with a great deal of success. They put a lot of pressure on us, and we didn't pick it up."
When the media departed, Teevens still had his back to the wall and had the same expression. It's the expression Chaump had through seven games this season.
"This took a lot off us," Chaump said. "The only I-A team in the country without a win is nothing to be proud of.
"I have a lot of empathy for Tulane," Chaump added. "They are so much like us: Injuries at quarterback, a tough schedule, etc. I realize what they are going through."
But Chaump also realized what his players had gone through this season until yesterday, and he was happy the team came back to win "under some extreme adversity.
"They could have said ho-hum, let's get through the season and finish it," Chaump said. "Our players have character. They never entertained any idea of giving up."
His players also had celebration on their minds. Judging by their smiles, the Midshipmen were ready to party.
"It was just like a cup overflowing, and it just came out," defensive back Favors said of the emotions.
' "Our day finally came."