Four weeks ago, Army's football team outclassed Air Force, the entire Corps of Cadets gathered in Eisenhower Hall, the West Point auditorium. Slowly the lights were extinguished, until only one remained. Beneath that solitary beacon rested the Commander-in-Chief's trophy.

Army regained that service-academy football prize a year ago, after Navy had maintained possession for four seasons, and the Cadets can keep it by beating Navy Saturday. There is a growing feeling at West Point, despite the 9-point odds against it, tha Army will do just that.

"When Navy was winning all those games earlier in the season, not too many people up here thought we had a chance," said Joe Oliver, Army's 245-pound senior offensive right tackle out of Oxon Hill High. "A lot of people are turning around, now that Navy has lost a few and we've won three of our last four."

Oliver marked his 21st birthday yesterday, but he is delaying the celebration until Saturday evening. He hopes it matches the joy of one year ago, when Army fought off a late Navy surge to win, 17-14.

"When we beat them, it was one of the happier days of my life," Oliver said. "People were jumping up and down on the field and the good feeling didn't go away for a long time. It was hard to feel sad or angry when we first came back to school, no matter how hard the academic grind got.

"The year before, when we loss to Navy, nobody said anything in the dressing room. A few people were crying in there and there was a miserable look on everybody's face. It was just bad. They blow the game up so much. Everything all year points to Navy. You can have a 1-10 season and if you beat Navy, it makes up for tha.

"All Army-Navy games are special, but for me this one is real special. It's the last game of my career and I want to play just as well as I can. I want to have a good memory of it."

Steve Belichick, the Navy assistant who specializes in Army intelligence, ways of Oliver, "He's one of their best. Not many people get past him."

Oliver slipped past Navy's clutches. His father is a retired Navy petty officer and it was natural that the Mids expected to keep Oliver in Maryland. It did not work out that way.

"I considered Annapolis initially, but then I came to West Point for a visit and I liked it," Oliver said. "The big factor was that I wanted to be away from home and not dependent.