Normally, the parking lot surrounding Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium isn't exactly a happening place after a Navy football game. Since the Midshipmen defeated Yale, 41-7, in 1988, Navy has gone 5-17 in home games.
But the mood was far different Saturday after Navy beat Eastern Illinois, 31-10, in the home opener for the Midshipmen. The 21-point win was the largest margin of victory for Navy since that Yale game, which also happened to be the last time Navy scored more than 31.
"We finally looked like a I-A team tonight," Navy coach George Chaump said about the win that evened the team's record at 1-1. "We have something to build on after the first two games. We still have to play better and cut down on the mistakes."
Navy didn't play its best game, but it was enough to blow out the Panthers (1-2). Credit the performance of fullback Brad Stramanak, who scored three touchdowns, including a 50-yard run in the third quarter that gave Navy a 28-10 lead. Stramanak rushed 16 times for 92 yards.
"He's going to get his yardage, whether you hit him in the backfield or not," said Navy quarterback Jim Kubiak, who completed 18 of 37 passes for 248 yards and one touchdown. "He's a great guy to have in there near the goal line."
Chaump said he also was pleased with his defense, which held a team to 10 or fewer points for just the fifth time in 60 games. Linebacker Javier Zuluaga, who ranked among the nation's leaders in tackles last season, had a game-high 15 Saturday. Free safety Joe Speed had 10 tackles and anchor back Steve Lipsey had nine, with each grabbing one interception.
"I like the way they are playing," Chaump said of the defense.
Still, the victory came against a Division I-AA team that had nine turnovers in a 49-7 loss to McNeese State the previous week. Kubiak had a lot of time to throw and was fortunate not to have several of his passes intercepted. And the defense gave up 255 yards passing to Eastern Illinois quarterback Jeff Thorne, who was intercepted seven times in the McNeese State loss.
Navy will get another chance to see how good it is when it plays host to Bowling Green Saturday, but for now, the Midshipmen will savor the victory.