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Navy senior Zach Abey is back where it all started.
Like in 2016, Abey will be the starting quarterback again for the Midshipmen in this weekend’s 119th annual Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. Except Saturday will be a bit different for the Pasadena, MD native.
Two years ago as a sophomore, Abey opened the season as Navy’s third string quarterback. But injuries at the position, including then starter Will Worth breaking his foot in the American Athletic Conference championship game just a week before Navy’s annual showdown with Army, immediately thrust Abey into the national spotlight.
With only a week to prepare, Abey’s first-career start at quarterback would come in a pressure-packed environment just up the road in Baltimore as the Mids looked to extend a 14-game win streak over Army.
“Obviously, two years ago I was thrown in there and didn’t have a lot of game experience,” Abey recalled in an interview this week. “I was a younger guy.”
Operating with a simplified offense, Abey and the Mids tasted defeat against Army for the first time since 2001, falling 21-17.
After starting the entire season last year, Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator opted to throw a wrinkle at Army, opting to start slotback Malcolm Perry at quarterback against the Black Knights. It worked.
Perry ran wild, racking up a record 250 yards as Navy outgained Army in a 14-13 loss.
Abey moved to wide receiver in the offseason, as the Navy coaching staff opted to go with Perry this season. However, staring at a 2-6 record after a 44-22 loss to No. 3 Notre Dame forced the staff to shake things up and Abey was reinstalled at quarterback. And he’s been under center ever since Navy’s 42-0 loss at Cincinnati on November 3.
Having undergone so much since that 2016 start against Army, Abey enters Saturday’s matchup with a much different mindset.
“This year with all the experience I had playing under center and in-game experience, I think I’m more relaxed going into this game,” Abey said. “Nerves will always be there for everyone on both sides of the ball. Just going in relaxed and confident. Confident in the ability I have and the ability we have as a team.”
Navy (3-9) ended a seven-game slide on Abey’s final home game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when he ran for a season-high 128 yards on 26 carries with a pair of touchdowns in a 37-29 against Tulsa.
Afterward the win, fullback and co-captian Anthony Gargiulo marveled at his teammate’s versatility.
“Zach amazes me every time I see him out there because he starts at wide receiver then goes back to quarterback. I think they even talked about center at one point,” Gargiulo joked.
Despite playing wide receiver while Perry directed the offense much of this season, Abey saw snaps on short yardage situations inside the red zone. And he was definitely effective, scoring 14 rushing touchdowns to bring his career total to 39 (fourth most all-time career TDs in school history).
After just two carries for three yards last year against Army, Abey is ready for his final shot against rival Army.
“Even though our season hasn’t gone so great, this game doesn’t matter what the record is on each side,” Abey said. “Both teams are going to play their best football they’ve played all year. It’s really going to be a battle but about who wants it more.”