Annual season-ender could be Army QB's new beginning

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PHILADELPHIA -- You will not find Ronnie McAda's picture or biography in the 1994 Army football guide. Nor will you see his name listed in the preseason three-deep chart for Cadets quarterbacks.

But this afternoon at Veterans Stadium, McAda, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound sophomore from Mesquite, Texas, will direct Army's offense in its traditional season-ending meeting with the Naval Academy.

It took injuries to the Cadets' two most-seasoned quarterbacks to place McAda in this pressure-filled position.

Senior quarterback Rick Roper, who directed the Cadets to victories over the Midshipmen the past two years, was the first to get hurt. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the first quarter of the season opener against Holy Cross, ending his college football career.

Roper's replacement, senior Mike Makovec, who underwent knee surgery in 1991 and 1992, lasted less than a week as a starter before severely spraining his right ankle against Duke.

Steve Carpenter, a converted halfback, started the next game against Temple, but when Army suffered a disappointing 23-20 loss to the Owls, coach Bob Sutton turned to the untested McAda.

"It definitely slowed our progress offensively," said Sutton. "All our quarterback repetitions in the preseason were dedicated to Roper and Makovec."

But it took only a few short weeks, including a stunning 30-29 upset of Louisville, for McAda to establish himself as the offensive leader.

His first true test came in his fourth start against The Citadel when the Cadets trailed 24-22 with 2:17 left to play and the ball on their 29-yard line.

That McAda was in command was evident after he completed an yard sideline pass to split end Dondra Jolly. Instead of stepping out of bounds to save time, Jolly tried to shake free of tacklers and lost valuable seconds on the clock.

When Jolly returned to the huddle, he got a chewing out from his sophomore quarterback. "In the huddle in the last two minutes, class and rank don't mean a thing," McAda said later.

McAda completed five passes in the final drive, uncharacteristic for a conservative, wishbone team.

"You don't like to move away from what you do well too often, but Ronnie has the best arm of our quarterbacks and makes it less painful," Sutton said.

McAda showed his poise when he called an audible and threw a 36-yard pass to Ron Thomas, who was tackled on The Citadel 17 with six seconds remaining and no timeouts left.

Again, McAda found the answer. He spiked the ball to stop the clock, leaving just enough time for Kurt Heiss to convert the winning 24-yard field goal as time expired.

"It was a great effort by McAda when you stop to remember this was a kid who wasn't even supposed to be playing this season," said Sutton.

"He came into a real rough situation, but just took over. He didn't show a bit of nervousness. It's one thing to act poised, but it's something else proving it by making big plays.

"He's been our silver lining this season. He does an excellent job of executing the option. He's not the fastest guy."

In the last three weeks, however, the Cadets have struggled offensively.

Army's running game, which averaged 301 yards in the first four games, fell on hard times after leading rusher Akili King tore a knee ligament against Louisville. Over the past three games, the Cadets have averaged 200 yards in total offense.

It is why Sutton was waiting until the last possible moment to decide whether to start McAda or a recuperated Makovec.

"You really can't prepare McAda emotionally for a game of this magnitude. His heart will really be pumping when he gets out there," said Sutton.

"There's no question that's where we miss a guy like Roper. He's been through two really tough Navy games. He knows how to deal with the intensity."

Roper, who has been watching practices from the sidelines, has spent considerable time in helping McAda.

"The thing I like about Ronnie is he's always willing to listen to advice," said Roper, a fellow Texan. "With a lot of underclassmen, it goes in one ear and out the other.

"When he first started playing, I was always . . . telling him this is what you should be thinking. But after his third or fourth game, he had come into his own. There wasn't much I could tell him.

"Now I try not to take up too much of his time because a quarterback before a big traditional game like this wants to control his own emotions. Ronnie knows the system now . . . next year, this will be his Army team and his destiny."

ARMY vs. NAVY

Time: Noon.

Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

Series: Army leads 44-43-7.

Line: Army by 2 1/2

TV: Channel 13

Radio: WMAL (630 AM), WWLG (1360 AM), WNAV (1430 AM).

Outlook: Coach George Chaump, whose Midshipmen (3-7) lost their last two meetings against the Cadets in the final seconds, could be coaching his final game at the academy after posting a 14-40 record in five years, 1-3 vs. Army. The Mids lost last year, 16-14, when freshman Ryan Bucchianeri missed an 18-yard field goal on the final play. Navy enters today's game with consecutive victories over Tulane and Rice while capitalizing on a revitalized defense. Army has lost its last three games against Boston College, Air Force and Boston University, scoring only 21 points. The Cadets (3-7) are without star running back Akili King, who hurt his knee against Rutgers on Oct. 8. Senior QB Jim Kubiak has set 17 Navy passing records, most notably for yards (5,647) and completions (534).

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