For Navy, it was clear sailing through wide gap in talent

Superiority over Army obvious in 42-13 rout

College Football

December 06, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

When the respectful rite of standing for each other's alma mater had ended in the chill of an early evening in Philadelphia, Navy and Army went their separate ways again, the former riding high, the latter still trying to climb to an equal level.

The great divide in their football fortunes still intact after Navy's 42-13 romp Saturday, the Midshipmen returned to Annapolis for a break from the field, then pre-Christmas preparations for their Emerald Bowl date against New Mexico.

Army returned to West Point still lagging in the race for the Commander in Chief's Trophy that Navy has captured the past two years.

"They have good athleticism," Army coach Bobby Ross said of the Midshipmen. "They have good speed, good quickness - better than what we are right now. We've got to get better in those areas. You've got to give Navy credit."

Navy was never seriously threatened in the game after breaking a scoreless tie with 28 consecutive second-period points, a high for a quarter this season.

The relentless pounding administered by fullback Kyle Eckel, the game's Most Valuable Player for the second straight time, the all-around efficiency of quarterback Aaron Polanco and a resolute Navy defense headed by co-captain Josh Smith, who scored his first career touchdown on a 67-yard interception return, were far too many obstacles for the Black Knights.

New Mexico will be confronting a team on a roll. In its past two games, Navy outscored Rutgers and Army 96-34 and three of the opposition's touchdowns came when the issues had been long decided.

Navy was so inspired for its 105th meeting with Army that Eckel couldn't wait for President Bush to complete his pre-game visit to the locker room.

"He's a very important man, to say the least," Eckel said. "He told us to think about the people overseas and the importance of what we are doing. I took that to heart.

"But we were foaming at the mouth to get out there."

Once on the field, Eckel ran for a career-best 179 yards that could have been more than 200 had not a breakaway been nullified by a penalty.

"He's a load to bring down," said Army defensive back Dhyan Tarver. "I think Kyle Eckel got the best of us this time."

Navy has had the good fortune to avoid a rash of injuries this season. Nearly all its key personnel have remained healthy all fall. And the players continue to have an abiding faith in coach Paul Johnson and his staff, who are 5-1 against service academies.

If the Midshipmen win in San Francisco, they would record only the second 10-victory season in school history. The other one was nearly 100 years ago, in 1905.

"We believe in our coaching staff from top to bottom," said linebacker Bobby McClarin. "Coach Johnson knows what it takes to win, and, obviously, you're going to follow a guy who knows that."

Johnson expressed gratitude to 37 seniors, who endured a raft of losing their first two years before the turnaround that has produced a 17-7 record.

"They've seen the lowest lows and the highest highs," Johnson said. "I've just been lucky enough to coach them."

Army will be less affected by graduation than Navy. On the Black Knights' 44-man, two-deep roster, only 18 will be departing. The entire starting backfield returns. Navy will lose 22 players, including 16 starters, among them all the regular backs.

So, it won't be a given next season for a Navy team that has outscored the Black Knights 134-31 in the past three meetings.

What will be a given is what President Bush replied when asked beforehand who would win. "The United States of America," he answered. No matter who prevails on the field, that is always the case.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Navy (9-2) vs. New Mexico (7-4) in Emerald Bowl

Site: SBC Park, San Francisco

When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

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