Ugly Game Just Beautiful To Navy<

December 13, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

PHILADELPHIA - - On Broad Street, the main thoroughfare leading to Lincoln Financial Field, scalpers were holding up fistfuls of tickets to the Army-Navy game an hour before kickoff.

Business appeared to be slow.

Maybe people sensed what was coming.

What finally happened after nearly 3 1/2 hours on a chilly Saturday was an ugly - there's no way to sugarcoat it - 17-3 Navy win, its eighth straight over Army in this storied rivalry.

At least Army put up a fight in this one, something it hasn't done much in the recent past and something the Navy players - and maybe CBS, the poor network televising this game - appreciated.

"It kind of takes away from the game when you beat them 34-0 and 38-3," Midshipmen guard Osei Asante said after the game, referring to the two previous drubbings Navy had administered to Army.

For CBS, though, the first half had ratings disaster written all over it. Even for the sellout crowd of 69,541, it was a total snooze.

Army led 3-0 at halftime on a 23-yard field goal by Alex Carlton, which is great only if you're there to see a skinny guy from Wilmington, Del., kick a football.

Even in the press box, you could hear the sound of thousands of remotes clicking to another channel all over the country.

Maybe those who didn't click to something else - LaSalle-Kansas college hoops, "Seinfeld" reruns, adjustable-bed infomercials - were still marveling over the usual pre-game pageantry.

Oh, that was first class.

You had the stirring sight of the Corps of Cadets and the Brigade of Midshipmen marching into the sun-kissed stadium in their crisp uniforms.

You had parachutists from both academies floating out of the heavens trailing red smoke and landing on the field with varying degrees of artistry.

(One slid about 20 yards and came to an inelegant stop on her butt; another stuck the landing so hard he looked like a human lawn dart.)

You had Navy midshipmen in the stands singing lustily and Army cadets smacking around a ball in the shape of Navy's goat mascot.

(At first, on the Jumbotron screen, it looked like the severed head of a real goat. I remember thinking: "Boy, they really take this game seriously if they're slaughtering farm animals.")

What you didn't have was a very good football game.

Navy was lucky to be trailing by only a field goal at the half, given the dumb mistakes the Mids made.

Ricky Dobbs, who rushed for 116 yards on 33 carries to win the game's Most Valuable Player award, threw an interception late in the first quarter that led four plays later to Carlton's field goal and Army's lead.

Fullback Vince Murray fumbled early in the second quarter. And two long completions by Dobbs - a 58-yarder to wide receiver Nick Henderson and a 34-yarder to slotback Marcus Curry - were called back because of holding penalties.

Remember when I said the game was ugly?

This was the very depth of that ugliness.

"I had to remind the officials that we were leading the country in the least amount of penalties," Navy coach said Ken Niumatalolo with a smile. "That didn't go over real well. We got a little pressure there, but our kids bounced back. Our defense was resilient.

"Both of those turnovers killed us. That interception could have been catastrophic for us. To hold them to just three points was big."

Luckily for Niumatalolo, Navy came out looking like a different team in the second half. This guy must give a killer halftime speech.

On their first possession, the Mids drove 68 yards in 11 plays, with Dobbs hitting Curry for a 25-yard scoring pass and a 7-3 Navy lead.

On its next possession, Navy drove 55 yards in 12 plays - with Dobbs rushing for a key first down on fourth-and-1 at the Army 30-yard line - and saw Joe Buckley's 36-yard field goal up the lead to 10-3.

"That was huge," Niumatalolo said of Dobbs' fourth-down run. "Ricky has been doing that all year."

And after linebacker Ross Pospisil forced a fumble by Army's Kingsley Ehie midway through the fourth quarter, with the Mids recovering on the Army 12, Dobbs scored four plays later from a yard out for Navy's final touchdown.

Again, it wasn't a pretty win.

But neither Niumatalolo nor his players seemed to care.

"Most people understand what this game is about," the Navy coach said. "It's more than football. This isn't the biggest rivalry in college football. It's the biggest rivalry in sports.

"When you have two institutions playing for the love of the game and what these institutions stand for ... if not for these guys doing what they do, you wouldn't have football."

For Army, though, there will be no more football this year. The Black Knights finished with a 5-7 record, one win short of their goal of going to the EagleBank Bowl in Washington.

But Navy keeps going. Navy improved its record to 9-4 and plays in the Texas Bowl against Missouri next month.

You beat Army and you go to a bowl game.

In Annapolis, it doesn't get any better than that.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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