Navy basks in warmth of a long-lost feeling

1st-game win special thrill for Mids after futile 2001

September 02, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Huddled in a Dallas locker room, the Navy football team sang "Anchors Aweigh" at the top of their lungs Saturday night.

They said the Lord's Prayer, and then they counted off the points in their 38-7 win over Southern Methodist, shaking their fists as they barked out each number.

But mostly the Midshipmen just smiled. After all, they could rightfully call themselves winners, and it had been a long time since that was true. Navy went 0-10 last season.

"We expected to win," said Navy quarterback Craig Candeto, who rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns. "You have to do that at this level or you shouldn't even play the games. I will say it feels pretty good, though."

Amid all the euphoria, Mids coach Paul Johnson was already thinking about next week's game against North Carolina State. As well as his team played against SMU, Johnson was adamant that the Mids could play better.

"We didn't block them very well inside, and we had too many missed assignments," he said. "The difference between this week and next week is going to be tremendous. ... Now, having said that, we played our butt off, and when you play hard you give yourself a chance."

Navy's defense was perhaps the biggest surprise against the Mustangs. On the third series of the game, its starting safety, Lenter Thomas, aggravated a right-knee sprain that kept him out of most of the preseason, and SMU tight end John Hampton beat him for a 13-yard touchdown.

Thomas had to leave the game, but Navy didn't miss a beat. It would give up yardage to SMU's offense, but that was all.

"Our motto is, `Snap it again,' " said Mids middle linebacker Andy Sinitiere, who made seven tackles against the Mustangs. "As long as the ball isn't in the end zone, and you have to snap it again, we feel like we've got a chance."

That strategy helped force five turnovers Saturday night, three of which led to 21 Navy points. Though Navy's pass defense had looked shaky at times during the preseason, SMU quarterback Tate Wallis couldn't find any weaknesses; he threw two interceptions and was sacked twice.

"We were just working on getting the ball back to our offense," Sinitiere said. "Obviously, they were playing so well, we just wanted to do our job.

One couldn't help but wonder: Did SMU, which was boasting a turnaround season under new coach Phil Bennett, overlook the Mids, losers of 10 straight games? After all, it was no secret that the Mustangs were looking forward to this week's game with rival Texas Tech.

"You'll have to ask them that," Johnson said. "I can only worry about one team. I have my hands full coaching mine; I can't worry about the other team."

Said Candeto: "I tried not to listen to what their players were saying in the papers," Candeto said. "I just know we came ready to play."

The game bore a striking resemblance to Johnson's debut as Navy's offensive coordinator in 1995. In that game, Mids quarterback Chris McCoy (making his first career start) rushed for 273 yards and threw for 125 as Navy routed heavily favored SMU, 33-2.

Navy went 5-6 in 1995, and the next year Johnson helped the Mids earn a trip to the Aloha Bowl. Is it too soon to imagine these Mids accomplishing something similar?

"Hopefully, we'll just improve from the first game to the second game," Johnson said. "We hit some plays at times, but, golly, we can play better than that."

NOTES: Johnson improved to 6-1 in season openers. His only loss came against Georgia, when he coached at Georgia Southern. ... Gordon England, the secretary of the Navy, spoke briefly to the team after the game. "I'm so proud of you, I can hardly put it into words," he said. ... Navy announced before the game that junior defensive end Steve Adair had been suspended for the game for "violating academy rules." Adair, who did not make the trip, was listed as the backup to starter Dan Person. Navy officials said Adair's status for this week's game has not been determined. Junior Ralph Henry, a graduate of Eastern Tech, took Adair's place in the rotation and tipped a pass that Kevin Schwind intercepted, leading to a Navy touchdown.

Next for Navy

Opponent:No. 25 North Carolina State

Site:Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When:Saturday, noon

TV/Radio:No TV/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

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