Navy, looking to finish its season on a happy note, will be bolstered by the return of defensive tackle John Merrill and possibly tailback Mike Sherlock for its annual clash with Army in Philadelphia Saturday at 4 p.m.
An All-East selection last year, Merrill broke a bone in his foot five games ago. Sherlock is still the Mids' leading rusher (590 yards), despite missing the last five games with a hamstring pull. Roverback Gregg Milo will miss the game with a knee sprain.
Navy got off to a flying start (6-0) before running into a rash of injuries and the rugged part of its schedule.
Four straight losses -- to Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Georgia Tech -- erased Navy bowl hopes. But beating Army would more than ease the disappointment for the seniors.
"It (Army versus Navy) is a separate season in itself," said fullback Larry Klawinski.
"We always want to beat Army but I think this year's game has even more meaning since we lost the last four," said guard Jim Grant. "We still have a chance to be 7-4, which is a lot better than 6-5."
On paper, Army, which holds a 37-36-6 series edge, doesn't have a prayer. The Cadets (2-7-1) are concluding a nightmarish, injury-riddled season under first-year coach Lou Saban, a former NFL and Maryland (1966) head coach.
"They've had a great deal of difficulties. They've had to adjust to a new system under Saban and have had 17 starters out with injuries at least one game," said Navy assistant coach Steve Belichick, who scouted Army's 40-0 loss to Pitt last week. "Their continuity has been completely destroyed by injuries. They didn't have a great deal of depth to begin with."
Army has surrendered an average of 406 yards per game. It has been outscored, 277-89. The Cadets won their first two games, beating Connecticut, 26-10, and Stanford, 17-13. The Stanford win also represented the last time Army scored a touchdown rushing. Following that victory, the bottom fell out for the Cadets.
Army's best player is its nose guard, 6-foot-4, 255-pound George Mayes, who leads the team in tackles. But he, too, has been slowed by an assortment of ailments. He is expected to play against Navy.
"If he has to hobble on the field, he'll be out there," said Belichick. "He's good enough to play for anyone in the country. Unfortunately, for him and his team, he hasn't been 100 percent."
Navy has averaged 299 yards, 208 of that rushing, this season. The Mids' defense has allowed 283 yards per contest.
Navy's offense has been stagnating the last four games, scoring only five touchdowns. The one pleasant surprise has been the running of sophomore Eddie Meyers. The fourth-string tailback took advantage of his opportunity to play, rushing for a team second-best 373 yards and two touchdowns since being promoted. Mayers will start at tailback against Army.
The two-week layoff since its loss to Georgia Tech should benefit Navy. Several of the players nursing minor injuries are healed and are 100 percent.
Navy has defeated Army five of the six years George Welsh has been head coach. Navy won last year, 28-0.