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On this day, Mids seniors have final say

DefenseArmed Forces

First, quarterback Aaron Polanco rolled to his left, spunaway from a would-be Army tackle and sprinted 10 yards for the game's firsttouchdown.

A few minutes later, fullback Kyle Eckel shed an arm tackle at the line ofscrimmage, then bolted 23 yards up the middle and into the end zone. Fiveminutes later, safety Josh Smith leaped high to make an interception, thensprinted 67 yards untouched for the score that demoralized the Black Knights.

With that third unanswered touchdown, Navy had set the tone for its 42-13rout at Lincoln Financial Field. And it was clear that the seniorsrepresenting the Midshipmen would have their say in a big way.

"They've seen the lowest lows and the highest highs," said Navy coach PaulJohnson, alluding to the program's turnaround after going 3-30 from 2000 to2002. "They're the guys who made the plays today. I've just been lucky enoughto coach them."

Starting with the power trio of Eckel, Smith and Polanco, the four-yearplayers were all over the field, making things happen.

Cornerback Vaughn Kelley draped Army's best receiver, Aaron Alexander,rendering him a non-factor while breaking up two passes. Linebacker BobbyMcClarin made six tackles and deflected two passes. Defensive end BabatundeAkingbemi knocked down two more.

On offense, tackles Tyson Stahl and Sam Brown and guard August Roitschknocked Army off the ball with regularity, clearing the way for Eckel to rushfor a career-high 179 yards, while earning his second consecutive MVP award.

Slotback Eric Roberts atoned for a fumble early in the third quarter bycatching a 9-yard touchdown pass that put the Mids firmly in front 35-7 with2:59 left in the quarter. Receiver Lionel Wesley stretched out to make anoutstanding 37-yard grab that set up the fourth and final Navy score of thesecond quarter - a 12-yard touchdown pass by Polanco that gave the Mids a 28-7halftime lead.

Smith's performance was as impressive as Eckel's, and it came one yearafter he watched Navy rout Army, 34-6, from his hotel room, where he wasrecovering from appendicitis surgery.

Yesterday, the Mids' co-captain responded with a team-high 12 tackles andone sack. And he nearly made a diving interception, before baiting Armyquarterback Zac Dahman while sitting back in zone coverage.

After picking off Dahman at the Navy 33, Smith took off. Briefly, Armyhalfback Carlton Jones gained on him. But Smith never let him get close, whilemaking his first interception of the year count for his first career touchdownand a 21-0 lead.

"Anytime you score on defense, it's huge. That was a great, individualplay," Johnson said. "I think [Smith] flashed back to his earlier days back inIndiana [at Attica High] as a running back. They weren't going to catch him."

"I looked up at the JumboTron and I saw [Jones]. I knew he was fast," saidSmith, who relished being on the field after last year's medical emergencydenied him the chance. "That's what hurt the worst about last year, watchingall my buddies celebrating."

Eckel put the finishing touch on a punishing stretch against Army. In hislast two games, he has carried 55 times for 341 yards. In six combined outingsagainst Army and Air Force, Eckel has averaged 119 rushing yards.

By rushing for one touchdown and throwing for 100 yards and two more,Polanco validated his co-captain status once more in his first year as astarter.

"It's one thing to know the offense. [But] you can only learn so much inthe meeting room," Polanco said. "As a quarterback, you can't be too pumpedup. You've got to have a cool head and make your reads."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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