Mirror game: Army vs. Navy Struggling teams rely on running attack

December 05, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- In 1890, on the parade grounds of West Point overlooking the majestic Hudson River, Army and Navy competed in football for the first time.

The Midshipmen, more organized and advanced in strategy, prevailed 24-0, with running back Red Emrich accounting for four touchdowns (four points each) and four extra points.

A New York Times headline blared: "The Young Admirals Sweep All Before Them, Smiting The Enemy Hip And Thigh and Forcing Complete Capitulation."

Over the next century, the competition became more intense. As the two teams clash for the 99th time today at Veterans Stadium, Army enjoys a 47-44-7 advantage.

This season, however, the struggling Cadets and Midshipmen are almost mirror images of each other. Playing in a conference (USA) for the first time in history, Army has won only two of 10 games, while Navy, one of the few surviving independent teams, is only slightly better at 3-7.

After reviewing the comparative statistics, Army coach Bob Sutton, who enjoys a 5-2 edge over Navy, said, "These two teams are so much alike, it's scary."

You can count the ways: Both teams employ a multi-option offense to compensate for a lack of size and depth. With the emphasis on ball control, they have had great success running the ball. Army ranks first nationally in rushing (283.1), Navy fourth (264.9).

But both have struggled with their passing games. Senior Johnny Goff, running the Army offense for the second straight year, has completed 42 percent of his passes (28 of 67) and thrown only two touchdowns and six interceptions.

Navy sophomore Brian Broadwater took over for junior Steve Holly in midseason and engineered consecutive come-from-behind victories over Colgate and Boston College. But he had difficulty throwing the ball the past two weeks in losses to Notre Dame and SMU, managing a total of 132 yards and being intercepted three times.

Defense has been the Achilles' heel for both teams, which rank near the bottom nationally -- Army 104th and Navy 110th. In total defense, the Mids rank 107th and have yielded at least 24 points a game.

"If you want to improve in anything, you have to improve on defense," said Sutton. "That's the way it always is and that's the way it will always be."

Army and Navy have lost to their four common opponents -- Tulane, Rutgers, Air Force and Notre Dame -- although the Cadets battled the bowl-bound Irish down to the final play before losing on a field goal while the Mids were humbled by Notre Dame, 30-0.

"We've been on the verge of breaking through but lost some very tough games," said Sutton, whose team lost its opener by a point to Miami of Ohio, by five to East Carolina and by three to Notre Dame.

Against unbeaten Tulane, the Cadets rolled up 535 yards and were driving for the tying touchdown with five minutes left before bowing, 49-35.

"I believe we're a good team that doesn't have much to show for it," said Sutton.

Added junior cornerback Tony Coaxum, "We're a little too small, or a little too slow, but you can't measure heart, and we believe we can play with anybody in the country."

Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie saw last year's 7-4 team thinned the graduation of 29 lettermen, including 16 starters. Tackle Jason Snider was the only survivor on defense. He is listed as probable today after suffering a bruised spleen against Notre Dame.

Offensively, the Mids lost Chris McCoy, a one-man wrecking crew who shattered 17 academy records.

But it was the inexperience in the secondary, the absence of a pass rush and defensive stopper that was consistently exploited by the opposition. Almost every rival quarterback this season resembled a budding John Elway.

But Navy expects Army to stick to its bread-and-butter running game, and the Cadets probably took heart after watching SMU rush for 274 yards against the Mids in their last game.

Last year at the Meadowlands, with McCoy rushing for 205 yards and three touchdowns, Navy romped, 39-7, and ended a frustrating five-game losing streak to Army by a total of 10 points.

The hard times both teams experienced this season makes today's game even more meaningful, particularly for the seniors playing for the final time.

"This is like a bowl game for both of us," said Weatherbie. "A victory gives us bragging rights for at least another year.

"We may not have winning records, but every soldier, marine or sailor serving today or in the past has a rooting interest in this game. That's why it will always be so special."

Today's state game

Army (2-8) vs. Navy (3-7)

Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Army by 6

Series: Army leads, 47-44-7

Outlook: Both teams are trying to end on an upbeat. Army lost its last five games, including a last-second 20-17 loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 24. Navy dropped three straight after rallying to beat Boston College, 32-31. Senior HB Bobby Williams leads Army's attack with 746 yards rushing, 6.4 yards per carry. Sophomore QB Brian Broadwater (622 yards) and senior RB Irv Dingle (603) lead Navy's ground game. Broadwater and Army counterpart Johnny Goff have been inconsistent throwing the ball.

Navy today

Opponent: Army

Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Army by 6

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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