A four-game winning streak had injected the Army faithful with the heady notion that its football program had finally caught up to Navy's in their battle for service academy supremacy.
Turns out that thinking was premature.Before a worldwide radio and television audience and a sellout crowd of 69,322 at chilly Lincoln Financial Field, the Midshipmen scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions and routed Army, 42-23, yesterday to retain the Commander in Chief's Trophy for a school-record third straight year.
The victory was the fourth in a row over Army for Navy (7-4), which became the first to reach 50 wins in the series. The Black Knights have won 49 to go along with seven ties.
After a sluggish first quarter, the Midshipmen were in complete command with their triple-option offense that Army (4-7) could not slow down. Navy, the nation's No. 1 rushing team, amassed 490 yards on the ground and 531 overall, an Army-Navy game record.
Navy has outscored the Black Knights, 176-54, in their past four meetings, making its 18 seniors the first class to finish undefeated in the series since the 1977 graduates.
"It's a great feeling for the senior class," quarterback Lamar Owens said. "We were the last guys to know what a losing season feels like (2-10 in coach Paul Johnson's first year) and we didn't want to go back to that and send the program backward."
Said Johnson: "This is such a big deal for the brigade and all the sailors and marines out there, too. This year maybe more so than any of the others. Everybody was telling us they had caught us, and this and that. I'm of the old adage that `you've got to show me.'"
Owens did his part adeptly, almost flawlessly guiding the attack, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 101 yards on 15 carries. He was named the game's Most Valuable Player in the only Army-Navy game in which he was a featured player. Last season, he scored a touchdown against Army in a mopup role.
"He played a very good game," Johnson said of his senior co-captain. "I thought the team that ran the best would win, and we were able to run better than they were. Lamar did a nice job of running the offense, pitching when he needed to, keeping when he needed to. He has turned out to be a good quarterback for us."
Army was still hanging in late in the first half, trailing 14-10, when the Midshipmen got the ball at their 34 with 1:15 to play in the half. Eight plays later, Owens had guided his team into the end zone, darting off right tackle for the final yard to increase the lead to 11 with seven seconds left before halftime.
It was that way most of the day. Navy's superior speed and domination of the Army defensive line were overwhelming.
Solid work by the offensive line was the catalyst for another Midshipman, sophomore fullback Adam Ballard, who took advantage of Army for 192 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, one on a 67-yard run to start the fourth quarter that was Navy's longest offensive play of the season.
Ballard started slowly (he had only 13 yards at halftime), but once the Black Knights adjusted to try to contain the outside runs of Owens and slotbacks Reggie Campbell and Marco Nelson, the Army midsection opened up for him.
"During the first half, Army was taking the fullback out of the game because of the success Kyle [Eckel] had the last few years," said Ballard, a 240-pounder like Eckel. "But once we had success on the perimeter, it loosened them up inside."
Ballard was running loose on his big play when he saw himself briefly on the scoreboard.
"I don't have much speed to begin with," he said. "And I was out there all alone. I looked up at the JumboTron and said, `Where is everybody?"
Navy fullbacks have rushed for 523 yards and five touchdowns in the past three Army-Navy games.
For the first time during Johnson's tenure, the Midshipmen trailed. On Navy's first possession, a fourth-down gimmick play from the Army 36 didn't produce necessary yardage, and on the second possession, the Midshipmen had to punt after being pinned at their 1.
Army chugged 26 yards in 11 plays to set up a 32-yard field goal by Justin Koenig on the next-to-last play of the first quarter. Navy regained the lead on a 54-yard burst by Campbell four plays later, but Army responded with a 79-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Zac Dahman to Jeremy Trimble.
The Navy defense then got stingy and the offense held on to the ball, rolling to a 35-10 advantage before the Black Knights could get anything else going. The trophy, which had been missing for two days last week, was on its way back to Annapolis.
"It's hard to do things wrong on defense when your offense is scoring like that," said Navy linebacker Jake Biles, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles.
Army coach Bobby Ross was disappointed in the showing of his team.
"I really expected us to play better in this game," he said. "All of a sudden, we just never stopped them. I think we made progress in the program. But this game is indicative of the fact that we still have work to do."
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