Navy defensive end Charlie (Thunder) Thornton says Saturday's 80th clash in the annual game against Army is the perfect time to have the football player's dream game.
"A perfect game would be 13 unassisted tackles, four sacks, three fumble recoveries and a couple of interceptions," said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior. "And, of course, a victory."
Navy (6-4) is an 18-point favorite to end this season's four-game losing streak and the record for the classic at 37-37-6 against Army (2-7-1) is the nationally televised (WJLA-TV-7) game at JFK Stadium at 4 p.m.)
"Army beat us when I was a sophomore (17-14) and we beat them last year (28-0), so this game is the tie breaker for me," said Thornton, Navy's most consistent defensive player the past two seasons and an honorable mention All-America last year.
"I wish our season could have been better. We had chances to win a few of the games we lost, but we just didn't make the plays. Our bowl hopes were spoiled, but a win over Army will make our season a total success. Beating Army is everything."
Thornton, of Compton, Calif., almost never got the opportunity to play at Annapolis. He weighed only 180 pounds as a freshman and had to beg to try out for the plebe team.
"A 180-pound defensive end doesn't make it in college," Thornton said. "I didn't blame the coaches for not wanting me out there.
Thornton, who lettered in football and tennis in high school, added 30 pounds and was moved to linebacker as a sophomore. Injuries forced the Navy coaches to switch Thornton to his favorite position late that season and he has been a fixture at end ever since.
In his last five games, he has 41 tackles, eight for losses, and two fumble recoveries.
Last year, Thornton recorded 88 first hits, 11 sacks, broke up three passes, recovered two fumbles, caused a fumble and had one interception. In addition to being an Associated Press honorable mention All-America, he was selected to the AP and ECAC 1-A All-East terms. Thornton was voted the defensive player of the game in Navy's romp over Army last year.
Exceptionally quick and agile, Thornton has 89 tackles, 18 for losses, has caused three fumbles and recovered one this year. Many of his big plays and sacks came despite the constant double-teaming he has seen all year.
"I didn't get as much action as I hoped I would," said Thornton, who plans to attend flight school after graduation. "It made me feel like I wasn't contributing. As a senior, I thought I should have been doing more."
Navy Coach George Welsh has no complaints.
"He's been our best player this year," Welsh said. "He's made big plays consistently to lead our defense. Many of the teams ran away from him, but at times that's when he was at his best."
Army, winless in its last eight games and shut out its last two, will have problems controlling Thornton and his Cadet-hungry mates. Army's offensive line and backfield has been decimated by injuries this season, and senior quarterback Earle Mulrane (knee sprain) will be replaced by Junior Bradley Decker, who never has taken a snap from center on the varsity.
The Cadets' best players, 6-4, 255-pound nose guard George Mayes, and center Ed Perkins still are hampered by knee sprains but are expected to start.
"I understand Army's had a lot of injuries, but we won't take them lightly," Thornton said. "They could be 0-10, but if they beat us their season is a success. I don't want to end my career on a losing note. A victory would make life a lot easier at Annapolis next week."
Navy will get back defensive tackle John Merrell, who missed the last five games with a foot injury. Tailback Mike Sherlock (hamstring) and defensive back Gregg Milo (knee sprain) probably will not play.
Despite losing their last four contests, the Mids are averaging 299 yards per game while allowing 282. Army has surrendered 406 yards per game while averaging 237.
"Army will play us as well as they've played anyone all year," Welsh said. "The week off we had helped us, both physically and mentally. But we've been a difficult team to read. I don't know if we're ready to play a good game or not. I can't ignite them for this one. I hope they ignite themselves."
Navy has three players in post season all-star games. Center Rick Bott will play in the Hula Bowl, tackle John Taylor in an all-star game in Japan and Thornton will play in the East-West contest in Palo Alto, Calif. Army has scored only two touchdowns rushing this season, and is averaging only 8.9 points a game. Army's two victories came over Connecticut (26-10) and Stanford (17-13). . . Welsh has won five of his six games against Army.