By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 13, 2009
PHILADELPHIA -- In the days leading up to the 110th playing of the Army-Navy game, the Midshipmen listened quietly as their counterparts from West Point talked about the improvements they had made, the new confidence they possessed, and the extra motivation they had with a bowl bid on the line. They saw their offense struggle in the first half and Army take a lead into the locker room.
But Navy calmly rallied in the second half for a 17-3 victory in front of 69,541 inside Lincoln Financial Field and won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for a record seventh straight season.
"For us to say we're going to come and say we're going to blow out Army would be disrespecting them," said Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose program had won the previous seven meetings by an average score of 39-10. "We expect to win every time we play. But we keep that inside. We just come out and try to talk with our pads. I couldn't be more proud of our young men."
This was the eighth straight victory for Navy (9-4) over Army (5-7). Niumatalolo became the first coach to win the rivalry game in each of his first two seasons; Navy's 32 seniors will graduate having never lost to a service academy team. The win prevented Army from punching its ticket to the EagleBank Bowl; UCLA will take the spot instead.
Navy junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs was named the game's most valuable player after rushing for 113 yards and one touchdown -- his 24th rushing touchdown of the season, which set an NCAA single-season record for a quarterback.
Navy's offense was sloppy in the first half. On back-to-back drives, Dobbs was intercepted deep in his own half and junior fullback Vince Murray fumbled. The Midshipmen -- the least penalized team in the country -- committed two holding penalties that wiped out pass plays of 58 and 34 yards, and they had trouble gaining yards up the middle. For the first time since 1993, Navy failed to score in the opening half against Army.
"Nothing much needed to be said at halftime," Dobbs said. "It was do or die for us, and Coach wanted to make a statement on the first drive. He said we're going to see what we're made of, what kind of offense are we going to be."
Dobbs directed an 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive on that opening possession of the second half, and he made several big plays along the way. He connected with senior slotback Bobby Doyle on a 15-yard pass to convert third and nine, and later bulled his way for three yards on a fourth and one. Then he lofted a pass to a wide-open Marcus Curry -- who said that he knew he was "going to be chilling" on that play -- and the sophomore slotback scampered 25 yards for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
"I felt that drive was the game pretty much," Curry said. "That was basically like the exclamation point on the game."
Navy's defense made sure that was enough to win the game. Linebacker Ross Pospisil forced a fumble that fellow senior Craig Schaefer scooped up and returned 21 yards to the Army 12-yard line, setting up Dobbs's record-setting one-yard touchdown run. The Black Knights' next possession ended with senior linebacker Ram Vela intercepting a pass in the end zone. For the third straight year, the Midshipmen prevented Army from scoring a touchdown.
"I didn't even know that," Pospisil said. "That's just a testament to everyone in our program, the whole Navy football family. . . . Just the never-quit attitude. Those intangibles are so true about all the guys on our team."
And so, an afternoon that began with a bit of Army sass -- a goat's head, similar to the one worn by Bill, Navy's mascot, was batted around the section of the stadium that housed the Corps of Cadets -- ended as so many recent Army-Navy games have. In the final minutes, the Midshipmen in the stands waved brooms and chanted, "I believe that we will win!"
After the playing of Army's alma mater, Navy's football players joyously ran to their side of the stadium; several players climbed into the stands to join the Brigade. Senior guard Osei Asante helped direct the band as it played the Navy alma mater.
"It kind of takes away from the game when you beat them 34-0 and 38-3 [like Navy did during] the past two years," said Asante, Navy's offensive captain. "They said they were going to come out and try to beat us, they were going to give us their best shot. They did -- a lot of credit to Army. We just outplayed and outworked them today, and the scoreboard shows it."