PHILADELPHIA — As much as Navy football Coach Ken Niumatalolo tried to minimize its significance, his team’s winning streak against its chief rival continued to receive top billing during Wednesday morning’s Army-Navy media day at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Midshipmen have won 11 in a row in the series, the most by either side in 114 meetings between the service academy rivals, and questions about Navy’s unprecedented run of prosperity came first and frequently on Wednesday, 10 days before this year’s matchup in Philadelphia.
“We don’t talk about the streak,” said Niumatalolo, who is trying to become the second coach in Navy history to start 6-0 against Army. “Like I said, we just talk about this game, getting ready for this team, preparing ourselves. That’s always been our mind-set.”
Army Coach Rich Ellerson took that approach one step further, saying he has reminded his players that the last 11 years have no bearing on next week’s game. The focus, according to Ellerson, has been about how special this game will be given it’s the final time on the field for this specific collection of players.
The Black Knights (3-8) also have been practicing amid published reports regarding Ellerson’s job security. Ellerson has a 20-40 record in five years at West Point, with three seasons of three victories or less, and Army Athletic Director Boo Corrigan has said Ellerson’s status will be evaluated after the Army-Navy game.
“You do this one thing at a time,” Ellerson said. “You can talk about outcomes and what’s going to happen. If it’s not going to somehow or some way impact our preparation, then leave it off the table.”
The most glaring difference for Army this time is the mystery surrounding who will start at quarterback. For the last four years, it’s was the reliable Trent Steelman, but his graduation left the team with two players at the position with limited experience.
Junior Angel Santiago was named the starter at the beginning of the season, but sophomore A.J. Schurr elbowed his way into the mix Sunday by coming off the bench in the second half to rush for four touchdowns in a 49-42 loss at Hawaii. That performance led Ellerson to joke when asked who will start against Navy, “That’s why I close practice.”
In contrast, Niumatalolo allows full media access to Midshipmen practices, and it’s no secret that Keenan Reynolds will be directing the offense in his second Army-Navy game. As a freshman last season, Reynolds scored the decisive touchdown with 4 minutes 41 seconds left in regulation of a 17-13 victory.
The heartbreak of that loss resonated all the more for the Black Knights considering they were moving swiftly down the field on their final drive, reaching the Navy 14-yard line when slotback Larry Dixon fumbled during a sloppy exchange from Steelman.
Nose guard Barry Dabney fell on the loose ball, and Navy was able to celebrate winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for a series-record 13th time following a two-year hiatus.
This year, the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is not on the line regardless of the outcome. The Midshipmen (7-4), who won the trophy outright last year, are assured of retaining it because with a Navy loss, the three service academies will have split their games this season.
Navy beat Air Force, 28-10, on Oct. 5 in Annapolis, and the Falcons dispatched Army, 42-28, Nov. 2 in Colorado Springs.
“I think as a senior you have a responsibility to uphold the standard as far as Navy football goes,” Midshipmen senior linebacker and co-captain Cody Peterson said. “There’s pressure to get number 12. We want to make sure we do our job as seniors and leave on a good note.”