PHILADELPHIA - When the psychological sparring before the 105th Army-Navy game began, Army coach Bobby Ross suggested it was bigger for the Black Knights because the Midshipmen still had the Emerald Bowl coming.
Navy coach Paul Johnson responded by saying Ross was "setting the trap" that he wasn't going to fall into it, and he hoped that nobody associated with his program would either.
His wish was granted. Navy's players ignored the inference and trampled Army for the third straight season, 42-13, yesterday before a sellout crowd of 67,882 at Lincoln Financial Field that included President Bush and a radio and television audience that spanned the globe.
"When we heard Coach Ross said that, we looked around and said this means just as much to us as it does to them," said Navy linebacker Bobby McClarin. "We kind of used that as motivation."
In capturing their ninth regular-season victory for the first time since Roger Staubach's Heisman Trophy year of 1963, the Midshipmen (9-2) were never endangered after a four-touchdown second quarter. Navy netted 305 yards rushing, quarterback Aaron Polanco threw for 100 more and two touchdowns, and safety Josh Smith returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown.
The Mids clinched the Commander in Chief's Trophy for the second straight time by completing a sweep of Air Force and Army, which finished with a 2-9 record in Ross' first rebuilding year.
"We didn't want to see tie on the Navy plate on the trophy," said fullback Kyle Eckel, who rushed for a career-high 179 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries and had another long run nullified by a penalty. "We want to put just Navy on there for a long time. Somebody said this week that even if you lose, you still keep the trophy. That's not the way you want to go into this game."
Air Force One flew over the stadium 1 1/2 hours before the game and the president visited both locker rooms, mingled with the cheerleaders, made the pre-game coin flip and sat on both sides of the field before leaving after three quarters.
It was primarily a feeling-out process during a scoreless first period, with Navy squandering the only scoring opportunity when Geoff Blumenfeld missed a 25-yard field-goal attempt. But on their third series, the Mids got rolling.
A six-play drive featuring Eric Roberts' 44-yard burst pushed Navy ahead 7-0 when Polanco scored from the 10. After the third Army punt in four series, Eckel went off tackle the final 23 yards to cap a 53-yard scoring march.
Then came the play of the day. The Black Knights were on the move when quarterback Zac Dahman short-armed a pass and Smith picked it off to race to the end zone with Army in frantic pursuit.
"I just jumped up to block the ball, and he threw it right to me," said the Navy co-captain, who finished with a team-high 12 tackles, one sack and one other stop for a loss. "We moved around a lot on defense. Their quarterback would look around, and we would move into something else."
A 37-yard strike to Lionel Wesley set up the fourth Navy touchdown, a 12-yard pass to Mick Yokitis, before the Black Knights finally launched some offensive punch. With the first-half clock ticking down, Dahman completed five passes, the last to Jeremy Trimble from the 6, to put Army in the end zone and down 28-7.
The surge continued early in the third quarter when a Roberts fumble recovered by Army's Craig Cameron and some hard running by Carlton Jones took the Black Knights to the Navy 11. But on fourth-and-one, Ross elected to try a field goal, which Justin Koenig missed wide.
"I thought about not kicking it," Ross said. "But I looked to see and we were on the 10-yard line, and we had gone for it earlier in the game on a fourth-and-two and did not make it. I figured, well, we'll get the sure three points."
"I was surprised they tried the field goal," McClarin said. "They had some momentum going against us."
The Mids put it away shortly thereafter, marching from midfield to the end zone on the bruising running of Eckel and the arm of Polanco. A play fake and a 9-yard Polanco toss to Roberts produced the touchdown.
Navy's defense continued to keep the Black Knights at bay until midway through the fourth quarter, and Navy's reserves scored on a 17-yard run by reserve quarterback Lamar Owens in the waning moments, cementing its fifth win in the series' past six games. Army-Navy is now tied 49-49-7, marking the first time it has been even since 1992.
"I was scared to death coming in," Johnson said. "[Army] is in the process of changing their program over. But our guys did a great job of focusing and dialing in on what had to be done."
Next for Navy
Matchup: Navy (9-2) vs. New Mexico (7-4) in Emerald Bowl
Site: SBC Park, San Francisco
When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)