Navy coach Paul Johnson had barely finished running down a list of compliments for his team's defense, offense and special teams after Saturday's 35-24 victory over Northern Illinois when his thoughts raced ahead to Dec. 1.
"We've had a game to build on," Johnson said. "And the biggest game of the year is next. Army will be ready to play. Their seniors have never beaten Navy, and I know they'll come into this game with great incentive."
Johnson said Navy will have starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada back for the last game of the season from a knee injury he suffered in the second half at North Texas a week ago but found little to criticize in backup Jarod Bryant's performance.
"Jarod did some good things," Johnson said. "We scored 35 points with him. We would have liked to be better at a few things, but I call the game a little differently when he's in there."
Bryant's strength is his running ability. Because of that, Johnson didn't use the triple option as much and allowed Bryant to do what he does best.
The junior ran for 139 yards on 27 carries and scored a touchdown. And with him in the mix, it opened the door for his other backfield mates, Zerbin Singleton (three touchdowns and 101 yards on 11 carries) and Shun White (53 yards and one touchdown on eight carries).
Backs Adam Ballard, Eric Kettani and Reggie Campbell also figured in the rushing attack that gained 359 yards, and their blocking was key to the offensive movement.
"It wasn't pretty," Bryant said. "But we went out there and got it done. It felt like I carried the ball 900 times."
Defensively, Ross Pospisil (20 tackles), Blake Carter (10 tackles), Michael Walsh (nine tackles and a sack), Greg Thrasher (six tackles and an interception) and Matt Wimsatt (two tackles and a sack) led the way.
Northern Illinois tailback Justin Anderson, who led the Huskies' attack with 140 rushing yards, tipped his hat to the Midshipmen's defense.
"Actually, their defense is better than what we thought," Anderson said. "They're a hard-nosed physical defense, and I give all my props to them. They played with a lot of confidence. They made a lot of plays. And they were able to stop us when it counted."
The Mids have scored 441 points this season, the second most in school history and the most since the 1917 team produced 442, while their defense has given up 435 points, one shy of the program record set in 2002.
Navy's defense, led by sophomore linebacker Ross Pospisil's 20 tackles, eighth best in the nation this year, held Northern Illinois to 24 points. That's 17.1 below Navy's average. The Midshipmen had a timely interception by Greg Thrasher and forced four punts for the first time this season.
The Navy defense came up with the big stops when it absolutely had to. But the Mids made it harder on themselves than it needed to be. Seven times, Northern Illinois went for it on fourth down, and the Huskies converted each time, including a 1-yard run with 27 seconds left in the second quarter for a touchdown that put Northern Illinois back in the game at 21-14.
Army (3-8) has 37 seniors who have never beaten Navy. They'll get their final try Dec. 1 at M&T; Bank Stadium. Navy knows it will retain the Commander in Chief's Trophy, awarded to the winner of the round-robin series between the three service academies, because it has beaten Air Force, which defeated Army.