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In 1973 Welsh took over a Navy team that had suffered through five straight losing seasons. "I remember the moment of awakening," Welsh says. "I'd just left Penn State, where we'd had guys like Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, and I came away from my first team meeting at Navy thinking, 'They just don't look the same.' Well, I think the program was in worse shape here at Virginia.
"We had to teach our players to work. Last spring, our practices would die off toward the end; they'd lose their concentration and they'd get tired." Which helps explain the 35 injuries that befell the Cavaliers between the spring workouts and last Saturday's kickoff.
"My biggest problem at Navy," Welsh says, "was convincing kids trying to make it into flight school that they didn't have to stay up all night studying to pass." Asked whether he thought his Virginia players would be inclined to stay up all night partying, Welsh said, "I hope that's not a part of their activities in the fall."
Says a friend of Welsh's, "Before practice, after practice, at meals, the Virginia players are loosey-goosey, and George hates that." One all-too-Cavalier was quoted in a Richmond paper as saying, "We'll loosen Coach Welsh up after he's been here awhile."
"Uh-huh," says Virginia's assistant coach, Frank Spaziani. "It's happening the other way around, and fast." The Cavaliers nevertheless made enough mistakes against the Middies to lose a game they should have won. Virginia out-gained Navy 430 yards to 226, but six times failed to score touchdowns after moving the ball inside the Middies' 10.
Navy, on the other hand, took advantage of its opportunities. "There were some things Coach Welsh said I couldn't do too well last year," Navy Quarterback Marco Pagnanelli said. "I wanted to show I'd improved in some respects." Consider it done.
Pagnanelli completed only five of 12 passes for just 64 yards, but hit Tailback Rich Clouse for two TDs. The first covered 18 yards and made it 10-3 Navy early in the second quarter. The second was a 19-yarder that gave the Middies a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter.
Navy Tailback Napoleon McCallum returned a punt 72 yards in the second quarter, and Roverback Brian Cianella showed Welsh a little bit of everything. He caused one Virginia fumble, was called for unnecessary roughness, recovered another fumble, was caught for pass interference and sacked Cavalier Quarterback Wayne Schuchts to end Virginia's last-chance drive with less than two minutes left in the game. "I don't know if I redeemed myself or not," Cianella said, grinning.
Schuchts threw a 54-yard touchdown pass that put the Cavaliers, who had trailed 13-3, back in the game in the second quarter. His most resourceful moment came with 9:53 left in the game with Virginia behind 20-13. He dropped the snap, stepped forward, picked up the ball, took two steps back and threw a wobbler 40 yards to Flanker Mickey Graham at the Navy 8. That was one of those deep penetrations by the Cavaliers that came up short.
"It's a syndrome," Welsh said afterward. "A lot of these guys have been used to a lot of losses. We had our opportunities on the goal line and we couldn't do it. We have a long way to go, but it's a start. I still think we can have a winning season this year and have a shot at the ACC title in four. I also know that Virginia has had nine coaches in 29 years. That's a lot of coaches."