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It’s officially Army-Navy week at both Academies.
And both programs are riding completely different waves of emotion heading into Saturday’s 119th Army-Navy Game presented by USAA in Philadelphia.
After losing 14 straight to Navy from 2002-15, the No. 22 Army Black Knights (9-2) have won the last-two games against the Mids and will enter Lincoln Financial Field on a seven-game winning streak. That streak would be nine games except the CFB Playoff bound Oklahoma Sooners survived the Black Knights 28-21 in overtime.
To put it mildly, head coach Jeff Monken’s Black Knights couldn’t be riding a momentum wave any higher. However, Monken knows the margin for error is razor thing between his team and Navy (3-9).
"The two teams are built so very similar," Monken said at the Army-Navy press conference last week. "We were in recruiting battles for the same guys all the tme. It's just going to be two teams who want to win desperately slugging it out."
On the opposite sideline will stand Monken’s close friend in Navy head coach Ken Niutmatalolo. The two first coached together as graduate assistants at Hawaii and then together on Paul Johnson’s staff that engineered the Miss’ programs turnaround beginning in 2002, the first year of Navy’s 14-game win streak.
But this season has been unlike any other in Niumatalolo’s 11 season leading the Mids.
“It’s obviously been a tough year,” Niutmatalolo told us in an interview this week. “We’ve had some tough losses but the approach our kids are taking is this is a one-game season. We’re putting everything into this game this week and all of our focus is on the Black Knights. One game can turn everything around.”
This is probably the one game and rivalry in America where one game CAN make a season that’s otherwise been forgetful.
Army has clinched its second-straight Commander-In-Chief Trophy but a trip to the White House hangs in the balance Saturday. With President Trump announcing today that he’ll attend his second Army-Navy Game, Army knows the danger of facing a wounded animal.
“I don’t think our mentality has changed in how we approach them,” Army co-captain and linebacker Cole Christiansen said. “They’re a good football team. This game brings the very best out of everyone on the field. This really comes down to who wants to be the tougher team on that day.
“Our team has smelled blood in the water every year because we’re just hungry and excited to win. That’s all we want to do. It doesn’t matter how they’re playing or we’re playing. We’re hungry regardless.”
Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. (EST) on CBS with the pregame march-ons scheduled to begin at 12:15 p.m. (EST).