The worst season in the Naval Academy's 121-year footballhistory came to a fitting and merciful conclusion yesterday at VeteransStadium.
As Army's Corps of Cadets taunted by chanting "0-and-10" near the end, theBlack Knights applied the finishing touch to the ignominy with a 26-17 victoryin the 102nd renewal of their classic series.
President Bush, a record crowd of 69,708 at the reconfigured stadium and anational television audience watched Army dominate from the beginning tosaddle Navy with only its second winless season of the modern era.
The other was in 1948, when the Midshipmen salvaged some measure ofconsolation by tying Army to finish 0-8-1.
A familar constraint -- a poor start -- placed Navy into a 13-0 hole itnever escaped from and Omari Thompson returned the second-half kickoff 96yards to a touchdown to apply the exclamation point to Army's 49th win in thehistoric series. Navy has won 46, and seven games ended in ties.
The Midshipmen scored a perfunctory touchdown in the final minute to makethe game appear closer.
"We had a hard time offensively and they were definitely the better teamtoday," Navy quarterback Brian Madden said. "They proved it on both sides ofthe ball. We never got it clicking, and the scoreboard told that.
"I don't know if I ever got a good look to throw the ball. That was maybeour worst output of the season. We just didn't get it done."
Army's defense, led by captain Brian Zickefoose, pressured Madden into5-for-22 passing, and he often threw the ball away in frustration. And threetimes Navy had to be content with field goals instead of scoring touchdownswhile trying to rally from sizable deficits.
In a microcosm of their season, the Midshipmen fought uphill -- they wereoutscored 207-75 in the first half of their 10 games -- and never reached thepeak. The outcome left Navy with a 1-20 record in the 21st century.
Things started well when Bush's coin toss went Navy's way. On anunseasonably warm December day that was ideal for football, interim coach RickLantz elected to take the ball.
"Our offense has been more proficient this season than our defense," Lantzsaid. "I expected us to be more proficient offensively. That was our plan, butit didn't work out."
As often has been the case with the snakebitten Midshipmen, they failed toget a first down on their first two possessions while Army (3-8) thrived onthe attack early.
On the Black Knights' fifth play, plebe running back Ardell Daniels madethe correct read on a simple carry up the middle, cut and raced 60 yards to atouchdown.
The following Army series brought another bombshell when quarterback ChadJenkins (back from a leg injury) threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to BrianBruenton when Navy cornerback Clyde Clark gambled for the interception andfailed.
Halfway into the first quarter, Army was already up 13 points after amissed conversion.
More trouble ensued when Navy, trailing 13-3, tried to run out the clock atthe end of the first half. Anthony Miller blocked a John Skaggs punt andDaniels, the game's most valuable player, recovered. On the final play of thehalf Derek Jacobs kicked a 39-yard field goal for Army as time expired.
Then, Thompson, Army's career leader in kickoff return yardage, scampereddown the right sideline to open the second half and Navy's sluggish offensecould do little to dent the 20-point difference the runback created.
The victory broke a 12-game Army losing streak away from West Point and athree-game skid this season. The Black Knights finished with an 11-5-1 edge inArmy-Navy games played at the Vet, which will no longer exist the next timethe game can be played in Philadelphia.
Kudos came profusely from Army coach Todd Berry, who won his firstArmy-Navy clash in his second season. He lauded Jenkins as "a true warrior"for returning and Daniels, who gained 131 yards in 23 carries, for anoutstanding week of practice.
"I wasn't concerned about him going out there and getting intimidated bythe situation," Berry said of Daniels. "He's played in some big games before.It's about guys showing up and playing and he did. I knew he would."
The defense also drew its share of praise. "Our defensive players have agreat fire about them," the coach said. "We threw our bodies around and playedgreat disciplined football."
Army tight end Clint Dodson completed the festivities by leading the corpsin the singing of the Army fight song while astride several of his fellowcadets.
"We watched a history of Army football last night and saw on the tape NeilRavitz [a tackle] leading the Corps of Cadets after a victory. I knew rightthen I wanted to do the same thing. I just wanted to give something back tothem," Dodson said.
The football team already had.