Army Hoping to Break Army-Navy Game Losing Streak
Snow is in the forecast as Navy looks to extend its historic 11-game winning streak over Army in the Army-Navy game, which will be played for the 114th time this Saturday in Philadelphia.
The Army Black Knights enter the game likely playing for Coach Rich Ellerson's job as the team came excruciatingly close last year to ending the streak and finally graduating a senior class with at least one win over Navy.
West Point players, cadets and alumni stood in anticipation as they watched senior captain Trent Steelman lead the team late in the fourth quarter to only 14 yards away from what looked to be their first win since 2001. However, an errant handoff led to the ball hitting the frigid turf and Navy nose guard Barry Dabney recovering and sealing another Navy win.
Army (3-8) and Navy (7-4) will kickoff at 3 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field where the teams will play before the game moves to Baltimore next year. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be in attendance as well as the military heads of both services.
The pageantry associated with the storied rivalry that has been played since 1890 could be muted by the weather. Two to four inches of snow are forecast with the brunt of the storm set to hit during the game.
Navy's eleven game winning streak has unbalanced the rivalry between the two service academies that was once known for being so close. Navy seniors talk about not being the class to end the winning streak while West Pointers talk about the urgency to end it.
Navy's dominance started with the arrival of former coach Paul Johnson who has since left to coach Georgia Tech. Ken Niumatalolo hasn't missed a beat since taking over and winning six straight against Army.
Navy is set to play Middle Tennessee State in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30. The Midshipmen have played in a bowl game ten of the past eleven years.
Meanwhile, plenty of speculation follows the Army program and the future of its coach as the Black Knights limp through another losing season. Many believe this may be Ellerson's last Army-Navy game unless he can end the losing streak Saturday.
While Navy is set at quarterback with sophomore Keenan Reynolds setting the NCAA rushing touchdown record with seven in his last outing, Army's starting quarterback remains a question. Junior Angel Santiago has started for Army most of the year, but sophomore A.J. Schurr rallied the Black Knights to a near comeback victory against Hawaii with four second half touchdowns.
Ellerson wouldn't name a starter, joking at the Army-Navy media day that he was glad he could close practice to keep the Midshipmen coaches guessing.
Unlike last year, the Commander-in-Chief's trophy will not be in play for this Army-Navy game. Since Navy beat Air Force, and Army lost to Air Force this season, Navy is the only service academy who can win the trophy outright. Even if Navy loses Saturday, the Mids will keep the trophy since last year's winner maintains ownership in the case of an even split.
The Midshipmen enter the game as 10-point favorites as Reynolds has led Navy to win four of their last five games. That one loss was to No. 25 Notre Dame 38-34.
Both teams use the option running attack, which is ideal for snowy weather. Army and Navy are nationally ranked second and third respectively in rushing.
Navy has an edge in the passing game as Reynolds has thrown for over 1,000 yards in his first full season as the starter. Last year, Reynolds led the Midshipmen to the win behind a couple deep throws that took the Black Knights by surprise.
But again the game will be won on the line of scrimmage as each team's offensive line looks to wear down the respective defense by the fourth quarter.
Despite the intensity that will be evident throughout the afternoon, what sets this rivalry apart is the respect the players, the student body, and the alumni have for each other. The game will end and per tradition both teams will line up and sing the losing team's alma mater. Then the victors will sprint to their student body and sing their alma mater as the losing team stands behind.
After 11 straight year years, Army players are hoping to sing their song second.