At Navy, bowl hype halts

For now, Mids focus on retaining Commander in Chief's Trophy against revitalized Army

November 21, 2005|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

The Navy football team will know its postseason destination soon, but it already knows where its immediate focus should be.

Army is on the horizon in less than two weeks, and the bowl opponent will have to wait to get the attention of the Midshipmen. The Commander in Chief's Trophy is in the balance.

If the minds of the players wander, the coaching staff will certainly snap them to attention.

"It's a big, big game," coach Paul Johnson said yesterday of the 106th meeting with the Black Knights on Dec. 3 in Philadelphia. "The bowl stuff will be over [announced] this week, so we can get ready without that."

Navy has won the past two Commander in Chief series, bringing the trophy to Annapolis from Air Force, which lost to both service rivals this season. To retain the trophy, the Midshipmen must beat Army. Otherwise, the hardware named in honor of the nation's president will go to West Point, N.Y.

The last time the Army-Navy game determined the champion of competition among the three major academies was in 1996. Army won that game, 28-24, and both teams went on to bowl games.

The Midshipmen have won the past three games by a combined score of 134-31, but Army is in the midst of a revival of its own program under coach Bobby Ross and has won four straight games.

"I think they've learned how to win. They're not blowing games," Johnson said of the Black Knights after watching them on film. "I'm impressed with how hard they're playing."

Navy will probably enter the game without its most dangerous running back, freshman Karlos Whittaker, who is scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging today after his left knee was injured in the second quarter of Saturday's 38-17 victory over Temple.

"I really doubt if he can play," Johnson said. "I'd be surprised if he could. But you always hope for the best."

Whittaker, who was averaging 8.2 yards per rush and 25.6 on kickoff returns before the game, broke the Navy freshman record with six touchdowns. He was the second Navy back sidelined in two weeks, joining starting fullback Matt Hall, who suffered major ligament damage and will not return until at least spring practice.

Hall was replaced admirably by sophomore Adam Ballard, a 240-pounder who ran like Kyle Eckel most of the day against the Owls, netting 167 yards on 29 carries, both highs for the team this season.

Winless Temple, inspired by the departure of coach Bobby Wallace and personal pride, carried Navy into the fourth quarter with the game at stake. But it couldn't withstand a closing rush by the Midshipmen after Andrew Tattersall blocked a Temple field-goal attempt late in the third. Navy pulled away from a 17-17 tie with three touchdowns to become bowl-eligible.

"In every game you need a break, and that [blocked kick] was the one for us," Navy linebacker Rob Caldwell said.

The win sent 18 Navy seniors - the Johnson Era's first recruiting class - out on a high.

"We didn't want to see Navy football go back to where it was before Coach Johnson was here," senior quarterback Lamar Owens said. "When we came here everybody said to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel was so far away. I'm grateful and thankful we were a part of the turnaround."

Now, they have to be on guard against another academy team that is turning it around.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Army vs. Navy Dec. 3, 2:30 p.m., Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, chs. 13, 9, 1090 AM, 1430 AM

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