A series of costly turnovers spelled the end of Army's chances against Navy today in the 100th meeting between the schools. In a season of frustration for the Cadets, it also may end up costing Coach Bob Sutton his job.
Despite Sutton's recent success against Navy, which after today's 19-9 loss at Veterans Stadium includes six wins in the past eight years, the Cadets (3-8) have limped to their third straight losing season with four consecutive losses.
"You go back down to the barracks and the cadets are even talking about it," Army tight end Shaun Castillo said.
"He's been under a lot of scrutiny."
With one year left on his contract, however, Sutton said he expects to be back next season.
"Nothing has been said to me about the future," said Sutton, 48.
"I have a contract, and I'm anticipating that contract would be honored."
The Cadets didn't help his cause with today's lackluster performance, committing four turnovers and failing to move the ball consistently on offense.
Army, which entered the game ranked fourth in the nation in rushing, managed just 115 yards on the ground--164 below its previous season average. Leading rusher Michael Wallace finished with 76 yards on 25 carries.
"The defense did a great job of shutting down their running game," Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie said.
Just as important as their inability to run the ball, however, was the Cadets' inability to hold on to it.
"You come into a big game like this, you have to be mistake-free," Castillo said.
"Today, turnovers kept us from being mistake-free."
The first of those mistakes may have been the most costly.
Midway through the second quarter, Army stopped the Midshipmen on three straight running plays inside the Army 5-yard line, forcing Tray Calisch to punt from deep in his end zone.
But Army blew a chance for prime field position when Imani Dupree, running to his right, failed to make the catch. Navy's Marcus Jackson recovered at the Army 39.
Seven plays later, Tim Shubzda's 35-yard field goal extended Navy's lead to 10-0.
On Army's first possession of the second half, Navy's Gino Marchetti sacked sophomore quarterback Chad Jenkins--who had replaced injured starter Joe Gerena for a series--and forced a fumble.
Marchetti recovered at the Army 42, and six plays later, Shubzda added another field goal.
Trailing 16-3, Army desperately needed a touchdown and was making a successful drive when Wallace fumbled on a dive up the middle. Marchetti recovered at the Navy 14.
One last turnover, late in the fourth quarter, ended Army's chances. Gerena's pass was intercepted by linebacker John Chavous, who returned it eight yards to the Army 17 with 3 minutes 1 second left.
"Turnovers are a huge momentum boost in a game like this," Army nose guard Scott Kozak said.
"They forced the turnovers and we couldn't get it done [defensively]."
The Cadets, who forced at least two turnovers against nine opponents, failed to force one against their two service academy foes--Air Force and Navy.
At perhaps the lowest point of the season, Castillo said there is only one sure way to cope with a loss to Navy.
"You kind of take an angle that if this is the worst thing that ever happens in my life, I'm not doing too bad."