Navy keeps eye on prize

Commander in Chief's trophy would be Mids' with win over rival Army

Navy is 22 1/2 -point favorite

Mids QB Candeto: `This is a dangerous game'

December 06, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

All the pomp, pageantry and drama of the Army-Navy game will be renewed against a likely snowy backdrop today when the two service rivals clash in their 104th meeting at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.

With a worldwide audience watching and/or listening, the resurgent Midshipmen will attempt to accomplish their third goal of this season - to secure the Commander in Chief's Trophy that is awarded to the winner of competition among the three major services academies and is named in honor of the president of the United States.

Navy has already upset Air Force to put itself in a position to return the trophy to Annapolis for the first time in 22 years.

It has been that kind of a season for the Midshipmen (7-4), who have already attained the objectives of a winning season and reaching a bowl (the Dec. 30 Houston Bowl).

Navy is entering perhaps the greatest rivalry in athletics as a prohibitive favorite against the winless Black Knights, who are seeking to avoid the first 0-13 season in NCAA Division I history.

Nevertheless, for two weeks since the Midshipmen pounded Central Michigan, 63-34, coach Paul Johnson has been issuing warnings to his players to stand guard against overconfidence.

Quarterback Craig Candeto, the author of an Army-Navy-record six rushing touchdowns in Navy's 58-12 rout last season, has been listening.

"This is a dangerous game," said Candeto. "People are saying, `Army is not that good,' but it is most likely going to be close. People talking that way aren't going to be on the field. They [Army] have a chance to knock us off and play the spoiler role. It would make their season."

"Revenge is a strong motivator for those who care," is the axiom Johnson has repeatedly stressed to his squad before a game in which the cliche "you can throw out the record books" usually applies.

A young Army team that has started only four seniors has everything to gain and needs a boost after a troubling season marked by an NCAA-high 42 turnovers, injuries and inconsistency on both sides of the ball.

"A loss like last year hurts your pride," said Army co-captain Clint Woody. "For us seniors, you want to win this game for yourself, but you also want to give the underclassmen something to start with for next year. A win wouldn't make up for everything, but it would give us a better feeling inside, especially after last year."

Army has had to play chins-up often this season as the losses mounted - it has a 1-23 record since beating Navy in the 2001 finale - and coach Todd Berry was fired after six games.

"We have never addressed [being winless]," said interim coach John Mumford. "We're just trying to keep our eyes on the ball."

Nasty weather and field conditions could be a big factor in the game that Mumford called "bigger than the Super Bowl because of what it represents."

Preventing giveaways could be decisive in a matchup of Navy's nationally No. 1 ground game against Army's furious - yet controlled - passing attack.

"We'd like to control the ball and keep their offense off the field," said Mumford.

Effective ball-handling is essential in Navy's triple option offense. Army relies extensively on possession passes it hopes receivers can turn into long gains.

"We know we're not going to hold them to zero yards," said Army co-captain Ryan Kent. "We just have to not get frustrated."

Navy has won three of the past four meetings and four of six since a stretch from 1992 through 1996 when Army won five straight by a total of 10 points. The Midshipmen have also won the past four played at a venue for the first time, and this is the inaugural at the Philadelphia Eagles' new home.

Navy today

Matchup: Navy (7-4) vs. Army (0-12)

Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

Time:4 p.m.

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

Line: Navy by 22 1/2

Today's game

Army (0-12) vs. Navy (7-4)

Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

Time: 4 p.m.

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

Line: Navy by 22 1/2

Series: Army leads 49-47-7

Last meeting: Craig Candeto rushed for a school-record six touchdowns as Navy romped, 58-12, on Dec. 7, 2002 at the Meadowlands.

Last game: Navy routed Central Michigan, 63-34, and Army lost at Hawaii, 59-28.

Navy offense vs. Army defense: The Midshipmen pit the nation's No. 1 running attack (323.1 yards per game) against a team that has trouble stopping both the run and the pass. Army's young defensive unit has only two starting seniors and has been punctured for 468.3 yards an outing. If the surface is wet, look for Navy to depend even more than usual on leading rusher and bullish fullback Kyle Eckel. Navy doesn't throw often out of its vaunted triple option offense, but is averaging 18 yards per catch when it does, thanks largely to the dangerous Eric Roberts. Army's top tacklers are senior co-captain Ryan Kent and Brian Hill, both linebackers.

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