December 7, 1997
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Those memorable battles had been decided by shanked field-goal tries, dropped passes in the end zone and questionable coaching decisions. But this time McCoy and an aroused Navy defense that limited Army to 87 total yards allowed no margin for error.
Capping a 7-4 season with what Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie labeled "the best performance in my three years here," the Mids scored their most lopsided victory in the service rivalry since routing Army, 51-0, in 1973.
McCoy showed why he had been a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, rushing for 205 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. He capped his big afternoon with an 11-yard fourth-quarter scoring pass to senior wide receiver LeBron Butts.
The academy record book underwent another assault by the unassuming Georgia native, who will be appearing in the national Blue-Gray Game on Christmas Day. McCoy finished with the most points in a Navy career (268) and set a record for total offense in a season (2,573 yards).
And his 3,401 yards rushing in a career placed him second behind Air Force's Dee Dowis on the NCAA's all-time list for quarterbacks.
McCoy's two previous appearances against Army were major disappointments. In 1995, with Navy leading 13-7 in the fourth quarter, McCoy had a chance to put the game away on fourth down from the Army 1. But his pass fell short of a diving Cory Schemm in the end zone.
Last December, McCoy saw a 21-3 halftime lead slip away and was replaced by senior Ben Fay in the closing minutes. That is what made this one so special.
"You can't describe the feeling," he said. "One day, we're going to look back on this and realize we were part of something special. In my mind, this is the most competitive game in college football."
But this was hardly a one-man offensive show. Senior fullback Tim Cannada also enjoyed a memorable final game, ripping through the heart of the Cadets' defense for a career-high 133 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
All told, Navy rushed for 380 yards and controlled the clock for more than 42 minutes.
It was easy to forget that Army actually led 7-0 after only 41 seconds of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, senior fullback Joe Hewitt burst up the middle for 36 yards to the Navy 38. Junior quarterback Johnny Goff followed his example with a 38-yard touchdown sprint and suddenly the Cadets (4-7) looked like anything but 12 1/2 -point underdogs.
But that lightning drive only served as a wake-up call for the Navy defense that came into the game ranked ninth in the nation.
Said senior linebacker Travis Cooley: "We've got 10 seniors on defense who have been playing together since prep school. It's not like we were going to freak out. We knew we had more than 59 minutes."
Weatherbie, who had lost his previous two Army games by a combined three points, saw no signs of panic on the sidelines.
"After Goff scored, everyone kind of looked at one another and said 'How did that happen?' And then they said, 'We better get down to business.' "
Indeed. The remainder of the game, the Army offense was held to 13 yards with Goff mostly running in reverse under a fierce rush led by Cooley and tackles David Viger and Jason Snyder.
"We got lucky on our first drive," said Goff, making his first start against Navy. "After that, Navy's defense kept us from running inside. Then we tried to bounce outside and run the corners where we had success all season. But their linebackers did an excellent job shutting off the perimeter."
The Mids, who finished the season with four straight lopsided victories but minus a bowl bid, wasted little time changing the momentum.
Their initial drive stalled on the Army 9 and Tom Vanderhorst kicked the first of his two 26-yard field goals. After limiting the Cadets' next possession to three plays, McCoy directed a 65-yard scoring march that put Navy ahead to stay. The key to the drive was a McCoy keeper for 25 yards.
This set the pattern for the remainder of the game with McCoy and Cannada finding gaping holes in the Army defense.
"Our offensive line did an incredible job," said Cannada, an overachieving 195-pound fullback. "Every time I got the ball, I kind of said, 'Wow, I didn't realize I had that much room.' Everything on the field looked green. It was the game of my life."
In the second quarter, Navy converted a fumble by Hewitt and a mishandled punt by Scot Lord into a pair of touchdowns to take a commanding 26-7 lead at halftime.
The Cadets' chances of mounting a quick comeback were minimal since Goff had completed only 31 percent of his passes and just one touchdown in the previous 10 games.
"Their style is to keep it on the ground. I don't think they could suddenly change to a passing game," said senior safety and co-captain Gervy Alota.
Army coach Bob Sutton, who had enjoyed a perfect 5-0 record against Army, acknowledged the Cadets were never really in contention after their stunning opening drive.
"The fumble by Hewitt and the mishandled punt by Lord kind of knocked our game out of whack," he said. "If we were going to get back in the game, we had to stop them early in the second half."
But McCoy, crediting his coaches with "perfect play-calling," executed a 14-play, 80-yard march that consumed 7 minutes and 25 seconds, taking any suspense out of the rest of the game.
Said Weatherbie in tribute to his departing star, "Starting with the Notre Dame game, Chris played like a Heisman Trophy winner. It's too bad we lost some of those early games, otherwise, I'm sure he would have been a serious candidate."
There will be no bowl encores for McCoy or Navy this season. But for the 27 seniors on the team, beating Army for the first time and finally hearing the Japanese bell ring on campus will be music to their ears.
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