PHILADELPHIA — It has been a long 10 years for Army in its unsuccessful attempts to defeat Navy in the final game of the regular season.
“It’s a constant irritant to all of us,” Black Knights coach Rich Ellerson said firmly but without rancor.
However, when the 113th renewal of this proud rivalry kicks off today at Lincoln Financial Field, the Midshipmen (7-4) will be in a greedy, not giving, mood. They feel a responsibility to keep the streak going, and not just for the seniors who want to end their careers 4-0 against Army.
“I’ve heard it for four years, this is not a game you want to lose,” said slotback Bo Snelson, Navy’s captain on offense. “Coach (Ken) Niumatalolo said that by far, it’s the worst experience he’s ever had in his sports career. So it’s not something I want to have happen for our senior class, or for our underclassmen, or for the long line of men who have played and graduated.”
Niumatalolo lost to Army as a Navy assistant in the 1990s.
Army’s last win in the series came in 2001 at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium. In the 10 years since, counting seven games at the Linc and one each at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore; and FedEx Field in Landover, Md., the Black Knights have been outscored by an average of 23.7 points.
The closest game in that run came last year in Landover when Navy kicked a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter for a 27-21 win.
A win today would mean much more to Army (2-9), especially its seniors, than breaking a streak. It would earn for the Black Knights the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, presented to the team with the best record in the games among Army, Navy, and Air Force. Both Army and Navy defeated the Falcons this season.
Army has not won the CIC Trophy since 1996.
“It would mean everything, honestly,” Army linebacker Nate Combs said. “It’s been such a long time since the Army-Navy game meant this much, let alone Army beating Navy. That’s going to be a big deal. It’s going to hopefully give us an extra edge, and we can go out and have some fun.”
The game will match two dynamic rushing offenses and contrasting quarterbacks. Army senior Trent Steelman is making his 46th and final start, while Navy freshman Keenan Reynolds moved into the starting lineup in the season’s sixth game and is making his debut in the classic.
The Black Knights lead the FBS in rushing at 369.8 yards per game and need 251 yards on the ground today to set a school record for a season. The Mids are sixth in the FBS with an average of 285.5 yards.
A problem for both teams in their triple-option offenses are turnovers. Army lost 17 fumbles during the season, and Navy coughed up the ball 13 times.
It’s the biggest game of the season for both teams, and everyone involved knows the important part of preparing with so much on the line is remaining focused on what needs to be done and not getting sidetracked.
“We haven’t thought of the streak at all,” Navy linebacker John Michael Nurthen said. “The past is the past. It’s great to look back and see that but at the same time, it doesn’t mean anything. We’re just going to do our best to be as ready as possible to play.”