It is easy to tell when the Navy men's lacrosse team is playing a big game. Just look at how much junior midfielder Steve Looney plays. In Navy's 12-9 victory over Army before 12,117 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium yesterday, Looney played offensive midfield, defensive midfield, on extra-man offense and on the wing on faceoffs.
It was the eighth straight victory for No. 6 Navy (9-2, 5-1 Patriot League) over Army dating from 1997. With the victory, the Midshipmen will host the conference tournament if No. 4 Army (9-2, 4-1) defeats Holy Cross on Tuesday.
Looney finished with two goals, an assist and tied a game high with eight ground balls. His brother Billy, a sophomore, added three goals.
Army entered with a nine-game winning streak, its longest since 1958. It also has two of the best players in the country in junior attackman John Walker and senior attackman Jim Wagner.
The pair entered having scored 50 of Army's 98 goals, and they didn't disappoint yesterday. The first time Army got the ball into its offensive end, Wagner scored on a high 10-yard shot off an assist from Walker.
Wagner finished with four goals and an assist; Walker added two goals and four assists. They combined for all but three goals and one assist for Army.
Walker was guarded by senior Mitch Hendler, Navy's top defenseman.
"He was pretty good," Walker said. "My objective a lot of the time is to dodge and feed, and guys weren't getting open. I got a little frustrated. I should have gone at him a little bit [more]."
Defending Walker was not Hendler's only contribution. He also scored on a 20-yard shot as the first quarter expired to tie the score at 3. Army Coach Jack Emmer, believing the goal had come after the quarter, ran nearly 10 yards onto the field and confronted two referees; he had to be restrained by an assistant.
Navy led 6-5 at halftime. The game was decided a few minutes into the second half. Steve Looney scored early in the third quarter to give Navy a 7-5 lead. It went to 8-5 following a score on a point-blank shot by freshman Nick Mirabito, then to 9-5 after a goal by senior Ben Horn.
The Midshipmen took a 10-5 lead following a goal by senior Dwayne Osgood with 6 minutes 58 seconds left in the quarter. The four goals came on five shots and in a span of 6:16. Army took three shots early in the third quarter, but none came from Wagner or Walker.
"The third quarter might've been the best quarter we've played all year," Navy Coach Richie Meade said.
Army closed to 12-9 following a goal by Wagner -- assisted by Walker -- with 3:57 left to play. But Steve Looney got the ground ball after Navy's Chris Pieczonka won the next faceoff, and the Midshipmen didn't give up the ball until a turnover with 1:33 left.
"If we could have gotten within two, I think it might have created a little tightness on their part," Emmer said. "To their credit, they kept that three-goal advantage."
Navy has rebounded from a 13-6 loss to Georgetown two weeks ago with wins over Maryland and Army.
"Earlier in the season we weren't practicing well," Hendler said. "Guys were saying it's cold out, guys were making excuses. Now guys can't wait to get to practice. Everyone is studying film every night. . . . It's more like it was last year."