I’m currently sitting in the Press Box at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; where I am covering my first Army/Navy game. It’s funny to me because I have long admired the Army/Navy rivalry; and have often spoken highly of this game and these programs. In fact, I have stated on multiple occasions, and will continue to proclaim to this day that Army-Navy is by far and away the greatest rivalry in all of sport. My experience leading up to kickoff today has done nothing to change that.
Today’s game; like many Army-Navy games, won’t mean all that much in terms of football. Navy has already committed to play in the EagleBank Bowl against an ACC team (likely Wake Forest); and Army will not be going bowling no matter what happens today. Navy will not relinquish the Commander-In-Chief Trophy even if they were to lose, although they can win it outright with a win.
There is an old argument regarding the Army-Navy game that many people can’t consider it with sports’ best rivalries because of the quality of the football being played on the field. That argument won’t change today; as the football played today won’t be played by athletes who are on their way to professional careers. They won’t be household names (in fact, Navy QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is a name that most of you won’t even try to pronounce). The defense will be sloppy at times, the passing game will be almost non-existent (Army has now also converted to an option attack under Head Coach Stan Brock); and there will be mistakes you won’t see in most football games.
But today isn’t about football necessarily. Both of these academies want to win; and their fan bases want to win BADLY. But today’s game, this rivalry, and Academy football in general is about something more. It represents everything great about sports. It represents two teams-who are separate but equal in nature-who will lay EVERYTHING on the line today in front of fans to whom this game means absolutely everything; and will do it only for the names on the front of the jersey. Well, that and the flag that flies in the endzone here at “The Linc.”
That’s what makes sports great. These people are all working towards a common goal, but will separate today to battle each other in a great game that we all love. Ohio State-Michigan, Yankees-Red Sox, Duke-Carolina, that just doesn’t exist anywhere else.
I’ll update this quarter by quarter, but won’t do a “live blog” necessarily.
FIRST QUARTER UPDATE:
Navy takes a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, thanks mostly to a 65 yard TD run early in the quarter by Shun White. Army has moved the ball crisply at times, but has had drives sputter near midfield or in Navy territory twice. Matt Harmon added a 23 yard field goal on Navy’s final drive of the quarter to give the Midshipmen their current 10-0 advantage.
Other highlights of the quarter inclued Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada’s 34 yard pass to Tyree Barnes on Navy’s field goal drive (they throw the ball?) and a wacky 14 yard punt. Navy overshot punter Kyle Delahooke on a punt from their own 38 yard line. The ball sailed all the way to the endzone; where instead of covering the ball for a safety; Delahooke managed to pick the ball up and punt the ball back to the Army side of the field. The Black Knights were unable to get anything going despite the good field position; and Navy continued to hold them scoreless.
Pre-game highlights included an appearance by outgoing Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush (who will presumably present the C-i-C Trophy to the Mids afterwards should they emerge victorious). In-game highlights include the humorous spirit videos each Academy has shown on the stadium’s large screens.
SECOND QUARTER UPDATE:
Navy extended their lead thanks to an 80 yard drive capped off by an 18 yard TD pass from KNKE to Shun White. White went over 100 yards rushing on the day during the drive; it’s his 4th 100 yard rushing game of the season.
The Mids have also done a nice job of neutralizing Army FB Collin Mooney, who brought nearly 1,300 yards rushing into today’s game. At the half, Mooney has just 15 yards.
I continue to be impressed with the discipline Ken Niumatalolo’s squad uses in running the option, especially when they run to the short side of the field. The blocking from the offensive line, wide receivers, and FB Eric Kettani is stout, and their running backs are able to pick up 5+ yard gains even when having to run along the sideline the entire time. It is not easy to maintain such discipline; and is even more impressive considering that Paul Johnson has been able to get his Georgia Tech team to do the same thing.
Army had an opportunity to score at the end of the quarter following a Patrick Mealy 63 yard kick return that set them up at Navy’s 27. But Army QB Chip Bowden was unable to move the Knights much closer, and the Knights chose to run a fake field goal on 4th and 7 from the 24. The option run by Andrew Rinehart picked up only 4 yards, and the Knights remained scoreless, keeping things 17-0 at the half.
In-game highlights in the 2nd quarter included an appearance by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; who said Philadelphia was the “only real location” for Army/Navy. I’d certainly disagree, but understand the city’s passion for the game. The city is looking to win the contract for EVERY game played in the rivalry; with Baltimore remaining amongst the competitors. Another in-game highlight was a ceremony in the endzone swearing in a new group of Mids. At halftime, President Bush will switch sides of the field from the Army side to the Navy side.
THIRD QUARTER UPDATE:
Navy Offensive Coordinator Ivin Jasper went to work on the clock to open the 3rd quarter, and the results were outstanding. Shun White surpassed the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the season as Navy marched 72 yards in 8:04 before Kettani plunged in for the 5 yard TD. Shun White is the first Navy back to rush for 1,000 yards since Kyle Eckel in 2005; and the first ever slotback from Annapolis to hit the millenium mark.
Ross Posposil forced a fumble on Army’s first possession of the 2nd half; Wyatt Middleton recovered. Army stopped Navy on 4th and 3 from the Knights’ 28; preventing the Mids from doing any further damage. You get the feeling Navy would REALLY like to pitch their 2nd consecutive shutout today. Defensive Coordinator Buddy Green has been outstanding throughout the season, and a shutout of Army would certainly be a highlight.
There has been scuttlebutt regarding whether or not sophomore QB sensation Ricky Dobbs might consider leaving the Naval Academy for the chance to play somewhere else in the future. If the Mids are concerned about whether or not Dobbs is going to stick around; you’d imagine they’d want to get him some playing time in the rivalry game. If the game continues to roll in Navy’s favor, I think he’ll get a couple of drives in the 4th quarter.
Three other notes from today’s game. Navy is playing without CB Rashawn King, whose father died of a sudden heart attack Thursday. The players are wearing a sticker of a black crown with King’s father’s initials “DK”. Additionally, both White and Kettani are now each over 100 yards for the day. And also stemming from Philadelphia’s campaign to become the permanent home for the game; in press notes given out today; the city refers to the game as “Philadelphia’s Bowl Game.” With the game being moved to the week AFTER the end of college football’s regular season next year, that might be intelligent marketing strategy.
FOURTH QUARTER UPDATE:
Navy went back to work on the clock in their first drive of the 4th quarter. The drive; which actually began at the end of the 3rd period, went 55 yards in 6:48, and culminated in a 36 yard field goal by Harmon to make Navy’s lead 27-0. After this particular drive, Navy’s advantage in total yards is now 423-104. I imagine my vote for MVP will go to Shun White; but if Navy’s O-Line could be voted as a unit, I may have chose to do that.
Navy continues to work the clock, although Army did a nice job of pinning them back on their own 1 yard line off a punt. The Knights have played with passion throughout the game, but are just playing a team that has come together much better and survived the loss of an outstanding head coach with continuity from within the program. It wasn’t easy for Paul Johnson to get the Mids off the ground with his running attack; and it won’t be easy for Stan Brock too either. But despite the final score, you get the feeling that the Knights are moving in the right direction now under the option attack. A 3-9 record is an improvement, and they will hopefully reach bowl eligibility before it is their turn to represent the academies in the EagleBank Bowl.
A sell-out crowd of other 69,000 was announced for today’s game; but clearly some of that group was too cold to ever make it inside for the game.
With their win today, Navy extends their streak to 7 consecutive victories over their rivals from West Point. It is the longest win streak for either team in rivalry history.
Navy capped the scoring with a 68 yard interception return for a TD by Ram Vela. 34-0 is the final. Navy improves to 8-4, Army falls to 3-9. With the win, the entire Navy brigade has been granted an overnight; and there is much rejoicing in the brigade section knowing they will now have their evening to celebrate. Collin Mooney became Army’s all-time single season rushing leader at the end of the game; Shun White was voted the game’s MVP.
As always, today was much more about the emotions and representing the country than it was about football. But Navy’s football display was particularly impressive as well. They were dominant in all aspects of the game, giving Ken Niumatalolo his first win as a head coach in the series. There IS the possibility of a letdown when they play in the EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium, especially if the game is a rematch with Wake Forest. But they’ve already accomplished what they needed to this season….
-2 shutouts to end the year, including a blowout win over their rival; their 7th straight win over the Knights
-2 victories over BCS opponenents, including handing Wake their first loss of the season on the road; and getting a win over Rutgers
-Bowl eligibility again
-Winning the C-i-C Trophy outright for the 6th straight season
-Successful transition of Head Coaches
This was an impressive performance for the Midshipmen, and another impressive season. The emotions here in Philadelphia remain high; as Naval supporters across the globe will retain bragging rights everywhere they go.
This is the type of game the city of Baltimore really can’t afford to lose, or even lose a spot in the rotation. Philadelphia has created a website-PhillyLovesArmyNavy.com. Baltimore should consider embarking on a similar campaign.
It was very clear how emotional Ken Niumatalolo was not only at the end of the game, but also in his post-game press conference. He said he was in “awe” of the young men in his program, as he doesn’t know exactly what they go through on a day to day basis. He said their daily class load is tougher than the one he had at Hawaii; saying there are no “Geography of Honolulu” classes at the Academy. He felt particularly good for his group of seniors, and for the seniors throughout the brigade.
Coach added to my thoughts regarding the concept of “separate but equal”, saying the Mids want to “beat (Army’s) brains in” when they play; but have nothing but the utmost respect for each other afterwards; knowing they will be standing together to serve this country.
Coach made it very clear that this win was the most important for his team, saying the Bowl game was “gravy.”
That’s it for me. Talk to you tomorrow from Maryland-GW.