Navy is not the type of football team that can overwhelm its opponents with superior talent on any given day.
And when the Midshipmen commit a slew of costly mistakes - as they did yesterday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium against Northeastern - they leave themselves vulnerable to an upset, especially against a hungry opponent from the upper echelon of Division I-AA.
Conversely, Navy had enough resilience to thwart the Huskies when it counted most and persevered for a 28-24 victory and the squad's first 2-0 start since 1996.
"In three weeks, nobody will care what this score was," said Navy coach Paul Johnson. "A win is a win is a win. Here, you'd better celebrate."
The Midshipmen thus averted a repeat of last season's homecoming game when Delaware - like Northeastern an Atlantic 10 Conference power - capitalized on Navy miscues for a 21-17 victory.
"This team was very similar to Delaware," said Navy defensive end Jeff Vanak. "Definitely of good quality. They took it to us for a lot of the game. But we got a couple of breaks and were able to hold on."
Miro Kesic's short field goal at the end of the first half gave Northeastern (1-1) a 17-14 lead at the break. That was set up when the Huskies' Gavin Potter recovered a loose ball at the Navy 44 after Kesic's punt blindsided would-be Navy blocker Byron McCoy in the helmet.
But Navy's gaffes vanished for a period at the onset of the second half, helping the Midshipmen gain control.
On the opening drive of the third period, Navy held the Huskies, then took possession at its 41. In seven plays, the primary being a 34-yard run by Frank Divis, the Midshipmen seized the lead. Quarterback Aaron Polanco's cutback from the 1 put him into the end zone for the third time.
One play later, linebacker Reggie Sealey intercepted Shawn Brady and returned the ball nine yards to the Huskies' 21. In four plays, Navy had raised its edge to 28-17, with Divis taking a pitch the final 3 yards and Geoff Blumenfeld converting his fourth extra point.
"I thought they came out with a lot of zeal in the second half, and we did not match that zeal," said Northeastern coach Rocky Hager. "I personally believe the first two possessions of the second half were the difference."
The Midshipmen spent the rest of the day fending off Northeastern challenges, surviving a missed 26-yard field-goal try by Blumenfeld and sustaining their lead primarily with resolute defense.
"Basically, we did enough to win," said Vanak.
Said Brady, the victim of career-first interceptions by Vaughn Kelley and Hunter Reddick: "When emotions are high you can play with anybody. It doesn't matter what classification you have, you have to match their intensity and we didn't do that today."
The game started inauspiciously for the Midshipmen when Polanco and Jason Tomlinson got some signals crossed on the first play from scrimmage. While Tomlinson sped downfield, Polanco threw to a spot, and Huskies cornerback Richard Orah was there for the first of his two interceptions. He returned the ball to the Navy 1, and Brady followed with a dive over the line for a touchdown and a 7-0 Northeastern lead 1:04 into the game.
Navy answered with a 58-yard scoring march, capped by Polanco's 2-yard run. The teams traded second-quarter touchdowns before Kesic broke the tie.
The Huskies' defense was concentrated on fullback Kyle Eckel, who was restricted to 55 yards on 18 carries. But Polanco ran for 143 yards, recording two straight 100-yard rushing games. That's something his predecessor, Craig Candeto, never did.
"They kind of took Kyle out of the game," said Polanco. "You have to read it and go somewhere else."
Navy has now pieced together a four-game winning streak at home. That hasn't happened in seven years. Nothing tops victory - by any method.
Northeastern 7 10 7 0 - 24
Navy 7 7 14 0 - 28
First quarter NE-Brady 1 run (Kesic kick), 1:04. NAVY-Polanco 2 run (Blumenfeld kick), 3:01. Second quarter NE-Riley 24 run (Kesic kick), 3:56. NAVY-Polanco 2 run (Blumenfeld kick), 11:52. NE-FG Kesic 23, 14:57. Third quarter NAVY-Polanco 1 run (Blumenfeld kick), 4:04. NAVY-Divis 3 run (Blumenfeld kick), 5:55. NE-Parks 19 pass from Brady (Kesic kick), 11:48. A-25,115.
First downs 14 17
Rushes-yards 32-108 58-300
Passing 176 36
Comp-Att-Int 20-29-3 2-6-2
Return Yards 79 90
Punts-Avg. 4-32.5 4-34.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 3-13 5-50
Time of Possession 27:18 32:42
Rushing-Northeastern, Gyles 12-56, Riley 12-49, Murray 3-9, Brady 5-minus 6. Navy, Polanco 29-143, Eckel 18-55, Hines 4-47, Divis 4-45, Roberts 3-10.
Passing-Northeastern, Brady 29-20-3 176. Navy, Polanco 2-6-2 36.
Receiving-Northeastern, Parks 6-62-1, Graham 4-34, Mitchell 4-25, Riley 3-31, Thomas 1-12, Gyles 1-9, Lawlor 1-3. Navy, Eckel 2-36.
Next for Navy
Matchup: Navy (2-0) vs. Tulsa (0-2)
Site: Tulsa, Okla.
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
Yesterday: Tulsa lost to Oklahoma State, 38-21.