PHILADELPHIA - Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada had spent the past month trying to recover from a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for much of the season.
Slotback Shun White had spent the past two months trying to rediscover the magic that had made him the nation's leading rusher early in the season.
Fullback Eric Kettani had spent the season hearing all about his Army counterpart, Collin Mooney.
Maybe it was the sight of Army's new camouflage uniforms yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field that helped Kaheaku-Enhada salvage his final season, White redefine his and Kettani prove who was the best service academy fullback.
Or maybe it was just the sight of the Black Knights.
White set the tone with a 65-yard touchdown run on Navy's first possession, and linebacker Ram Vela put the finishing touchdown on a 34-0 win with a 68-yard interception return in the final minute.
The victory in the teams' 109th meeting, played out before an announced crowd of 69,144 that included President Bush, was the seventh straight for Navy (8-4) over Army (3-9) and a record 13th in a row for the Midshipmen against another service academy team.
It was also an emotional win for first-year Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, coming two days after senior cornerback Rashawn King's father died of a heart attack. Niumatalolo, who said his players had dedicated the game to King and his family, appeared to be fighting back tears on the field after the game.
"It's about the seniors and everything they go through," said Niumatalolo, whose team took home the Commander in Chief's Trophy for the sixth straight season.
"For four or five years, these kids gave everything to the program, and it is coming to an end for them. I am grateful for all that they have done for the program."
It was the second straight shutout this season for the Midshipmen and the first time in 30 years Navy shut out Army. It was the first time Navy recorded shutouts in two straight games since 1986.
"Our plan was to stop the fullback and stop the quarterback [Chip Bowden]; if they got something out on the perimeter, chase it down," said defensive coordinator Buddy Green, whose unit held Army to 154 total yards. "Those two guys had hurt everybody all year long. We were going to make them beat us with the pitch."
That's exactly what Navy's offense did to Army.
White's performance - 148 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown, as well as an 18-yard touchdown catch - came 11 games after he broke the school record with 348 yards against Towson in the season opener and 11 days after he was held to no yards on only one carry in a 16-0 win at Northern Illinois.
"It really didn't do anything for my confidence because I know if I get the ball I could make a play," said White, who surpassed 1,000 yards in his career, joining Kettani. "It just got the ball going. Whenever we're able to get the ball on the perimeter, it's a good thing for our offense."
While Niumatalolo thought the first touchdown seemed to settle his team's nerves, it also served to open things for Kettani.
Kettani rushed for 125 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. He also outplayed Mooney, who came in as the nation's 11th-leading rusher and was held to 54 yards on 17 carries but broke Army's single-season rushing total with a 1-yard run on the game's final play.
Although Kaheaku-Enhada's individual statistics were not great - 43 yards on 14 carries and 3-for-10 passing for 62 yards and the touchdown pass to White - his return helped the nation's leading rushing team gain 368 yards, its most in more than a month, and helped the Midshipmen lead the nation for the fourth straight season.
"He knows what checks to make; he knows how to read defense the best," White said of his fellow senior. "Not to take anything away from the other two guys, [but] I think he's more a fit for this offense."
It was also important to Kaheaku-Enhada, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks since Navy began running the triple option in 2001.
"It was huge," said Kaheaku-Enhada, who finished a game for only the second time this season. "I wanted to get back, actually contribute to the team effort. I haven't done anything all year long."
Kettani wanted to prove he was the best fullback at one of the three service academies. Before the season, Army defensive coordinator John Mumford said Mooney was better than any service academy fullback the Black Knights had played against. On a day when he surpassed 2,000 yards in his career, Kettani took one last friendly shot at his biggest rival.
Asked about Army's Nike-designed uniforms, Kettani smiled.
"I couldn't see them really; they're camouflaged," Kettani joked. "One guy caught me, it was like, 'What's going on?' It freaked me out. Their helmets were kind of gross. I'm a senior now - ask me anything you want."
PLAY IT AGAIN
What went right
With Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada returning at quarterback, the triple-option offense rushed for 368 yards, its most since gaining 404 against Southern Methodist on Oct. 25.
What went wrong
A bad snap that sailed about 10 yards over the head of punter Kyle Delahooke and rolled into the end zone. But with Navy leading 7-0 and Army playing for the return, Delahooke had time to punt it about 50 yards.
Though Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said it was Delahooke's first-quarter punt, it might have come on the previous series, when Army quarterback Chip Bowden was stopped for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-three at Navy's 33-yard line.
What it means
The Midshipmen beat Army for the seventh straight time and won a record 13th straight game against the other two service academies.
Navy (8-4) will play in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 20 at RFK Stadium in Washington. Wake Forest (7-5), which lost to the Midshipmen, 24-17, in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Sept. 27, remains the most likely opponent.