Safeties lock Navy's radar on bowl bid 2 late interceptions salvage Mids' victory over Ga. Tech, 36-26

Independence eyes Navy

Win over Army would tie school's win mark

November 24, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- A defense that struggled to stop Georgia Tech responded with interceptions by junior safeties Gervy Alota and Rashad Smith in the final six minutes yesterday to give Navy a dramatic 36-26 victory and keep its bowl hopes alive.

With scouts from the Independence Bowl on hand at Grant Field, the Midshipmen raised their record to 8-2. They can match the modern school record for regular-season victories, set by Wayne Hardin's 1960 and '63 teams, by beating rival Army on Dec. 7. But, more importantly, they may need a victory in Philadelphia to gain a bowl bid, their first since the 1981 Liberty.

"I'd love going into the Army game with everything on the line," Alota said. "It will just give us more incentive to beat them."

There is also an outside chance that Navy could be invited to the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii or Copper Bowl in Tucson, Ariz., depending upon how the remaining Big 12 Conference games play out. But all this talk would have been rendered meaningless if the defense had not repelled a fourth-quarter rally by the Yellow Jackets (5-5), who also are craving a bowl bid.

Led by Georgia native Chris McCoy, who had left the Academy early this week to attend his grandmother's funeral, Navy marched 78 yards in 11 plays to gain a 29-26 lead with 7: 02 remaining.

McCoy ran the final 4 yards on a quarterback keeper, giving him 15 rushing touchdowns for the season, tying the school record set by Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino in 1960.

But the lead seemed short-lived when tailback Charlie Rogers found a big seam in the Navy coverage and returned the kickoff 76 yards to the Mids' 24.

On third-and-four from the 18, redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Hamilton, who had played an error-free game, tried to find Harvey Middleton. The split end already had caught a touchdown pass.

Instead, Hamilton passed the ball into the hands of Alota, a junior free safety with a penchant for making big plays. He caught the ball on the Navy 10 as the crowd of 44,415 groaned loudly.

"That's the way our defense has been all year. We may bend, but we don't flinch," Alota said. "[Defensive end] Tom Poulter put a lot of pressure on Hamilton. I saw their receiver making a curl and stepped right in front of him."

Georgia Tech would have a final opportunity to win in the final three minutes after a 44-yard punt by Jason Covarrubias that Middleton returned to Tech's 30.

The Yellow Jackets went into a hurry-up offense with no timeouts remaining. On fourth-and-five from the 35, Hamilton completed a 14-yard pass to Middleton. But that would be their last gasp.

Rashad Smith, who was reared in Conley, Ga., 15 minutes from Georgia Tech campus, made the school's recruiters who ignored him pay dearly for their snub.

He caught Hamilton eye-balling tailback C. J. Williams and, with a sudden burst, he picked off the pass in full stride on the Navy 46 and ran 54 yards for the clinching touchdown with 1: 38 remaining.

Said an elated Smith: "I had 30 relatives and friends in the stands today and I wasn't having a very good game.

"But the way it ended, for me, this was our greatest win of the season. I never doubted we'd pull it out."

It was an offensive highlight show with the teams combining for 822 yards.

McCoy, who had rushed for more than 200 yards in Navy's two previous victories over Delaware and Tulane, was held to 51 on 21 carries. But he enjoyed one of his best passing days, completing nine of 14 for 148 yards.

"If they concentrate on stopping me, I get the ball where it needs to be," said McCoy, referring to fullback Omar Nelson's 19 carries for 87 yards. "That's my job, finding a way to win."

Next for Navy

Opponent: Army

Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

When: Dec. 7, noon

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WNAV (1430 AM)

Record: 9-1

Yesterday: Idle

Pub date: 11/24/96

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