Army-Navy game: Ricky Dobbs, Midshipmen overcome miscues for 31-17 victory

The Midshipmen took home their ninth consecutive win over rival Army, 31-17.
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 11:46 PM

PHILADELPHIA - The Navy football team extended its unprecedented run of supremacy over Army on Saturday, getting a decisive 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown from safety Wyatt Middleton and a pair of touchdown throws by quarterback Ricky Dobbs in a 31-17 victory before 69,223 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Despite four Dobbs turnovers, the Midshipmen (9-3) won their ninth in a row against their service academy foil, the longest such stretch by either side in series history.

It is Navy's fourth straight victory overall, and puts the Mids' senior class in position to become the winningest in school history with a victory against San Diego State in the Dec. 23 Poinsettia Bowl.

Dobbs finished with 240 total yards but put his team in jeopardy when he got careless. The first of his three fumbles led to Army's first touchdown against Navy in 13 quarters and tilted momentum squarely to the Black Knights (6-6), who are bowl eligible for the first time since 1996.

Awash in confidence following a touchdown on a drive that began at the Navy 23, Army was in position to whittle the lead to three points with a first and goal at the 3 late in the second quarter. Quarterback Trent Steelman ran around the right side, was stood up and tried to churn for extra yards. Navy linebackers Tyler Simmons and Jerry Hauburger then leaped in, with Simmons punching out the ball.

Middleton collected the carom at the 2 and raced to the end zone untouched with 1 minute 3 seconds left before halftime for Navy's first defensive touchdown of the season. On his way across the goal line, Middleton held out the ball in a bit of showmanship, igniting the brigade of midshipmen into a frenzy and giving Navy a 24-7 lead on a play that provided a seminal moment in the long and storied history of one of the most compelling rivalries in sports.

"That was a big swing right there," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "They had us reeling right there. We were doing okay, but the turnovers. We preached all week trying to make sure we didn't give them a short field, and we gave them exactly that, but the defense stepped up. That's the last thing we wanted to do was to give them a short field, but it was a big play by Wyatt, and he finished it."

After beating Army by a combined 89-6 over the last three games, the Midshipmen built a 17-point lead in the second quarter thanks to the passing game. The change of pace in Navy's run-heavy triple option caught Army off guard, especially on Dobbs's first touchdown pass covering 77 yards to sophomore slotback John Howell.

It was longest touchdown pass in Army-Navy history and just the second catch of Howell's career. Two possessions later, Dobbs completed a 32-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Turner on a throw he fit into a small window between a pair of defensive backs.

Then came the turnover that gave Army hope and forced Navy to gird for anything but another lopsided result.

"I tried to keep myself up," Dobbs said. "In basketball, good shooters have slumps. They have to have a short-term memory. I was telling myself the same thing. You just have to move forward."

Dobbs did just that after Army's field goal on the first drive after the break trimmed the margin to 24-10 with 8:08 to go in the third quarter. Despite an interception on Navy's first series of the second half, Dobbs then engineered a 13-play drive covering 87 yards for Navy's final points.

His pitch to sophomore slotback Gee Gee Greene yielded a 25-yard touchdown run with 5:44 to play and all but ensured victory on a day Navy ran for a just 139 yards and was at a disadvantage in time of possession by almost nine minutes.

"Every game is important, but it's something special with Army," said Simmons, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles and is part of a senior class that has 35 wins. "It's been quite a ride. Really, we're practicing for this game all year. We might not say it, but we always have it in the back of our head. It's a huge rivalry, and I think it's one of the biggest rivalries in sports, so yeah, it's a huge accomplishment, and I'm just proud of my boys."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company