Young Army Football Team Looks to End 13-Year Drought Against Navy
It's tradition to sing the loser's alma mater first followed by the winners sprinting across the field and singing their alma mater and celebrating with their student section. The losing players stand to the side respectfully watching at attention.
This year's matchup on paper points to Army players having to watch Navy celebrate a fourteenth straight time. Navy returns its decorated senior quarterback to a nationally ranked football team on its way to its fourth straight bowl game.
Meanwhile, Army has suffered a disappointing two-win season playing a cadre of underclassmen as second-year coach Jeff Monken might start a freshman at quarterback against Navy. The odds makers in Las Vegas have posted the Army Black Knights as a 21.5-point underdog on Saturday's game against Navy at 3 p.m. in Philadelphia broadcast on CBS.
However, a closer inspection of Army's season might give West Point alumni hope they will sing second. Army's team lost six games by seven points or less and were only blown out once.
"We have come close enough in enough ball games this year for me to feel like I'm not absolutely crazy in thinking we are a much better football team than 2-9,” Monken said in his press conference on Tuesday.
Monken explained that he has seen progress throughout the season in his young team, but pointed out the players need to learn how to finish games.
The key to Army's performance on Saturday might rest on the shoulders of freshman quarterback Chris Carter, who started for the Black Knights against Rutgers and played well despite the loss. He rushed for 111 yards and threw for another 140 in the 31-21 loss.
Monken has not officially announced Carter as the starter pointing out that all five quarterbacks on the roster are healthy for the first time in many weeks.
"The three who have played are all healthy and capable of playing in the game on Saturday,” Monken said Tuesday. "This week we will see how they operate as they get closer to the game and see how well they are executing and making their reads, and taking care of the ball, all of the things that will matter on Saturday.”
However, the Army coach explained that Carter's play against Rutgers gave him additional confidence in starting him in such a high-pressure game like the Army-Navy rivalry.
"I thought he just handled it remarkably well for a young guy and gave us the confidence that we could put him in the game again,” Monken said.
Navy's senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds started his first Army-Navy game as a plebe -- the term West Point and the Naval Academy use for freshmen. He won the game for Navy in 2012 scoring the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Four years later, containing Reynolds will be important for the Army defense if the Black Knights want to keep the game close. Reynolds has mastered running the triple-option attack over his four years, developing into arguably the best Navy quarterback since Roger Staubach.
Army's defense has a few advantages stopping Navy's rushing attack. First, Army runs the same offense so the defense sees it in practice all year. Second, Monken helped coach Navy's offense for five years under current Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo so he knows many of the concepts the team runs.
"The good thing that we've got going for us is that each day throughout the year we've continued to spend a little time defending the option, and that's something that we continue to stay committed to because we want to be ready for these games against our academy rivals,” Monken said.
Army Junior LB Jeremy Timpf said the key to stopping the triple option is maintaining gap discipline and executing defensive assignments.
"Each individual person needs to do their job. With the triple option, if one person doesn't do their job, it can get out of hand. We can learn from the mistakes of other teams Navy has played,” Timpf said.
He explained that the defense and special teams need to create turnovers in order to help their offense and keep the game as close as last year when Army lost by a touchdown.
"They have done a very good job this year of keeping their hands on the ball, so I think in a game, especially this one, to get the momentum by a turnover. Especially like last year, when we blocked the punt and scored a touchdown. We need to have a fumble or an interception in order to get the momentum,” Timpf said.
The emotions of Saturday will play a factor in the game. Players from both teams have said records don't matter when there is a rivalry of this magnitude.
"The 2015 teams are both 0‐0 against each other. We haven't faced this Navy team yet so we are going to focus on what we have to focus on and do what we need to do to come out next Saturday and give our best,” said Army senior tight end Kelvin White.
Monken said a win over Navy would be a significant victory for the program and a proud moment for the Army senior class to end the drought.
"This football team has never lost to Navy and that is the way we have to approach it. These guys are not responsible for the last how many years it has been, they responsible for this team and this year,” Monken said.
"We have to do our very best to try and win this year. I was on the other side of it and it is a great source of pride for each team and for each class, especially for our seniors and to win it this year would be great.”
-- Michael Hoffman is a contributor to Military.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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