Now, Army in command

On 4-game streak, Black Knights eye Commander in Chief's Trophy

November 23, 2005|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

Philadelphia -- It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the Army football team started to believe it would win again.

Maybe the breakthrough came in the third game of the season when then-22nd-ranked Iowa State had to rally in the fourth quarter to win at West Point, 28-21.

Or perhaps, as coach Bobby Ross contends, it arrived in mid-October in Fort Worth, Texas, when the Black Knights carried then-No. 25 Texas Christian nearly to the wire before two late touchdowns sealed a 38-17 decision for the Horned Frogs.

Or was it at Akron on Oct. 22, when Army broke an 11-game losing streak with a dominating 20-0 performance? Could it have been two weeks later in Colorado Springs, Colo., when the Black Knights beat Air Force for the first time in 28 years on its home field and lined up for a chance to win the Commander in Chief's Trophy?

Whenever the time came, it is obvious that Army (4-6) will be a considerable hurdle for rival Navy (6-4) on Dec. 3 when one of the academies will become the first with 50 victories in their storied rivalry. Not in 38 years have the Black Knights entered the classic game with a winning streak as long as four games as they have now.

"Winning at Air Force was real big for our confidence," said Carlton Jones, a co-captain who is Army's leading rusher with 944 yards. "We hadn't won there in forever. It was big-time."

Dhyan Tarver, a stalwart at defensive back and a co-captain, agreed, saying, "That was a large catalyst. The only thing that is going to beat that is to beat Navy. You are always playing to win, but we're definitely doing that this year. We have that much more confidence."

Ross said his team was down 24-17 at TCU with eight minutes left when he opted for an onside kick that didn't work. Given a short field, the Horned Frogs marched in for a touchdown and then capitalized on an interception for another to make the final score misleading.

"I think our kids felt then that `Hey, this is a very good football team we're playing and we're right with them most of the game,'" Ross said. "I think that was the turning point."

Ross' work at West Point is beginning to resemble that of his Navy counterpart, Paul Johnson, who had his team in a bowl game two years after a winless season. The Black Knights aren't going bowling after losing their first six games, but they are on the same improvement track.

During the kickoff luncheon at Lincoln Financial Field yesterday, Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said Navy "will bring it [Commander in Chief's Trophy] here. We'll put it on the 50-yard line and the team that ends up on top can take that baby home."

That will provide even more incentive for the Black Knights, who haven't claimed the prize since 1996.

"We seniors want to go out winning the Commander in Chief's," Jones said. "I've seen pictures of it, but I've never actually touched it. I definitely want to get a hold on it."

Said Tarver: "This is the Super Bowl of my life. It's the game that I live for, the one that determines our season."

Ross said he was feeling optimistic even after the Black Knights started 0-6.

"I wasn't losing any sleep because I felt like we were playing better," he said. "We were playing good defense, our kicking had improved. But at an academy, it's important that you win. That first year [2004], people would compliment us because we played hard. That didn't cut it for me."

Now, it's no longer cutting it for the players, either.

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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