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Victory Is Music to Navy's Ears

For Third Straight Year, Midshipmen Top Army: Navy 42, Army 13

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page E01

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 4 -- After the final seconds of the 105th Army-Navy game ticked away and the cannons sounded at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, the Black Knights and Midshipmen made their way to Army's side of the field. There, with the Army cadets wearing their gray formals and the U.S. Military Academy band playing "Alma Mater," the teams stood side by side.

When the band stopped, the Midshipmen turned around, held their gold helmets high and yelled, "Three cheers!" With the Black Knights dragging behind, Navy's players ran to their side of the stadium, stood in front of the midshipmen decked in long black coats and white hats, and sang "Navy Blue and Gold." When the U.S. Naval Academy band finished, the brigade screamed: "Beat Army!"

A joyful time for Navy -- singing the alma mater moments after its win over Army is clinched. The crowd of 67,882 included President Bush. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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Since Coach Paul Johnson arrived in Annapolis from Division I-AA Georgia Southern after the 2001 season, beating Army has become an annual celebration for the Midshipmen. And the slow, somber stroll across the field has become an all-too-familiar walk for the Black Knights. Saturday, Navy beat Army for the third consecutive year, 42-13, in front of a crowd of 67,882, which included their commander-in-chief, President Bush. "This year has been so much fun," Johnson said. "There's no question this is the biggest game for Navy and always will be."

For the second consecutive season, Navy won the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, after going 23 years without winning it. The trophy will remain in Bancroft Hall, the academy's dormitory for all midshipmen, until at least the end of next season. It is only the second time Navy has won the trophy in consecutive seasons; the Midshipmen also won it in 1978 and 1979.

"I thought that was an awful long time for a three-team trophy," Johnson said.

If Johnson can replace his senior class, the Midshipmen don't seem ready to hand over the trophy to Air Force or Army anytime soon. Navy has won its last five games against Air Force and Army, winning three in a row over the Black Knights by a combined score of 134-31. Saturday, the Midshipmen ran for 305 yards and scored four touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 28-0 lead.

Army, which lost to Navy for the fifth time in six seasons, finished 2-9 under first-year coach Bobby Ross.

Fittingly, it was the Midshipmen's senior class that led them. They'll play together one more time, against New Mexico in the Dec. 30 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.

"We've got one more game left in a bowl and then they're going to be gone," Johnson said. "Gosh, we're going to miss them. Hopefully, they've laid the foundation that we can build on."

That foundation seems pretty rock-solid right now. Navy (9-2) won nine games in a regular season for the first time since 1963 -- when Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 9-1 record and No. 2 ranking. When Navy's seniors were plebes in 2001 they finished 0-10 and lost to Army, 26-17.

"It's huge to win all three games you've played" against Army, safety Josh Smith said. "It's something you'll remember for the rest of your life."

Smith, a co-captain from Attica, Ind., is one of the seniors Johnson will miss most. After missing last year's Army game because of an emergency appendectomy, he returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter this year. Smith, who became only the second player in Navy history to lead the team in tackles in three consecutive seasons, led the Mids with 12 tackles, 1 sack and 2 tackles for loss.

Navy will certainly miss senior Kyle Eckel, a bruising fullback from Philadelphia, who ran for a career-high 179 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries against the Black Knights. He was named the game's most valuable player for the second season in a row, after running for 152 yards and two touchdowns in last year's 34-6 win over Army.

"Kyle's just been tremendous when we play an academy team," Johnson said. "He's hard to tackle."

Navy quarterback Aaron Polanco, a senior making his first start against Army, completed 7 of 11 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns -- a 12-yarder to senior Mick Yokitis (the first of his career) and a nine-yarder to senior Eric Roberts. Polanco also ran for 32 yards and one touchdown.

"I'm just happy for this football team and our seniors," Johnson said. "They've seen the lowest lows and the highest highs. I've just been lucky enough to coach them."

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