BALTIMORE — Typically at Army-Navy media day, team captains speak on behalf of their respective service academies ahead of one of college football’s most tradition-rich games. Representing the 25th-ranked Midshipmen on Tuesday morning were, among others, slotback Toneo Gulley and linebacker Daniel Gonzales .
Far from ordinary, however, was that the senior co-captains made the trip to M&T Bank Stadium — site of Saturday’s game — for Tuesday’s event knowing they would not be able play, underscoring Navy’s plight entering the annual showdown with its archrival.
Not only are Gulley and Gonzales out for the season, so, too, is starting quarterback Will Worth, who was injured on the same play as Gulley early in the second quarter of Saturday’s 34-10 loss to Temple in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
In all, the Midshipmen (9-3) have 10 players listed as out for the season, including reserve slotbacks Josh Brown and Josh Walker. The Midshipmen do have considerable depth at the position, although they were extremely limited against the Owls when starter Dishan Romine and top reserve Darryl Bonner left with ailments.
Romine is expected to play, but Bonner remains out while undergoing concussion protocol.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like this before,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said of the depleted roster.
Gulley has a Lisfranc injury to his left foot, and Worth broke a bone in his right foot shortly after setting the Midshipmen season record for total offense (2,595 yards). The senior also had matched several other Navy season records, among them consecutive 100-yard rushing games (seven) and overall games with 100 rushing yards (eight).
Worth had ascended to the starting job when Tago Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the season opener.
Zach Abey replaced Worth against Temple and finished with 70 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. The sophomore also completed 7 of 13 passes for 104 yards with two interceptions, the first of which resulted from a wildly errant throw intended for senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman.
Abey is set to make the first start of his career against the Black Knights (6-5). The backup to Abey is freshman Malcolm Perry, who came out of the stands in the opener, changed from his dress whites into a football uniform and played in relief of Worth during a 52-16 victory over Fordham.
Although Abey was able to run a second huddle during practices this season, he will have only three full days this week handling starter’s reps because Navy played in the AAC title game. Normally the Midshipmen have at least two weeks to plan for Army, but that routine is subject to modification since Navy joined a conference for the first time last year after 134 years as an independent.
This will be the first time since 1941 — eight days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — that Navy will have had only one week before facing Army. The Midshipmen also are playing their eighth game in a row without a bye.
The Black Knights, meanwhile, will have had three weeks between games. Army last played Nov. 19, beating lower-division Morgan State, 60-3. On Sunday, the Black Knights were selected to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 27 against North Texas. It will be their first bowl game since 2010.
“Just be there for the guys who actually are going to be on the field,” Gulley said of his responsibilities this week for the Mids, who will play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 in Fort Worth against Louisiana Tech. “Just inspire them to step up to the challenge and do great things, and that’s what they’re going to do.”
The Midshipmen recently have absorbed significant attrition on defense as well. Starting outside linebacker Josiah Powell has missed the past three games with a leg injury, and starting inside linebacker Hudson Sullivan did not play against Temple because of a sore knee. Starting cornerback Elijah Merchant has missed the past five games while undergoing concussion protocol.
All are questionable to play Saturday.
“You love all the good things that happen with football, but then you have to expect the bad things to happen,” said Gonzales, who suffered a Lisfranc injury Oct. 1 against Air Force. “I told Tago that the first day he went down, and as soon as I went down, it was a reality for myself. That was the first thing I told Toneo when he went down. We’ve still got to lead.
“This is our team. We can’t be on the field with these guys, but we can do everything we can off of it.”