Mids use bye time to recharge

Navy looking to continue bowl drive heading into home finale on Saturday

November 18, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

A refreshed Navy football squad returned to serious practice yesterday after a weekend off, bent on winning its first Senior Day game in four years.

In their final appearance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, 21 seniors hope they can take away a memory that none of the three classes before them experienced. Navy has not won a home finale since a 45-21 victory over Tulane in 1999, the last game the team won in Annapolis before this year's opener.

"It would be huge to take this one," said senior John Skaggs, the academy's all-time leading punter. "Especially after last year when we came into this big day so hopeful, then got blown out, 38-0 [by Connecticut]. Winning this one would be like revenge for that.

"Plus, it'll be the last time my family will come up here [from Florida] to watch me play."

There are plenty of motivational vehicles for the Midshipmen on Saturday against Central Michigan. Victory would guarantee them their first winning record since 1997 and would thrust them into the middle of the bowl-game picture with a 7-4 record.

Navy is 3-1 at home, losing only to Division I-AA power Delaware. The reversal has removed some of the sting from what the seniors underwent their first three years.

"To win the last home game would be a great feeling," slotback Tony Lane said. "Going 3-30 our first three years made it painful to even come to practice. There is a whole different atmosphere here this year. The fans kept coming even when we were losing and now we're paying them back [for their loyalty]."

The heartbreak of the team's 40th consecutive defeat to Notre Dame on a D.J. Fitzpatrick field goal as time expired appears to have abated because new business is before them.

"Having the time off last week was refreshing for everybody," Skaggs said. "I know I came back feeling great. Now we've got a two-game season in front of us. That's how we're looking at it."

Asked if he'd like to return to Florida for a bowl game, Skaggs said: "That would be great. I'd even play in the Kumquat Bowl."

One of Central Michigan's three wins was by 38-10 over Eastern Michigan, a team Navy routed in its third game, 39-7. That was the only Mid-American Conference win by the Chippewas, whose other two triumphs were over Division I-AA teams.

Central Michigan runs a fairly balanced offense geared around freshman runner Jerry Seymour (963 rushing yards in just eight games) and the passing of quarterback Derrick Vickers (98 of 188 for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns).

Navy has never played the Chippewas.

The center position will have its third starter this weekend, sophomore Marshall Green, a relative lightweight at 233 pounds.

"Marshall is doing all right," coach Paul Johnson said. "Tucker Bennett will back him up."

The original starter, August Roitsch, is out with a foot injury and Shane Todd [Linganore) went down during the Notre Dame game with a toe problem.

NOTES: Navy's defensive coordinator, Buddy Green, was hospitalized briefly with pneumonia after Notre Dame, but is back with the team. ... The Midshipmen have turned their record from 2-10 last season to 6-4 this season, the third-best turnaround in the country. Tulsa has the best, going from 1-11 to 7-4.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Cen. Michigan (3-8) vs. Navy (6-4)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Radio: WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Navy by 20

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