Perhaps more than any other player on the Navy football team, senior slotback Darius Staten is thrilled that the Midshipmen will be playing in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, which is about 35 miles from his hometown of Carrollton, Texas.
"I'm emotional right now," Staten said after the team's 42-14 throttling of South Alabama on Saturday night. "It's going to be amazing. You wouldn't want to end your career any way better than to end it where you started. So I'm very excited."
Navy (6-4) punched its ticket to its 11th bowl in 12 years by walloping the Jaguars at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. This will be the program's fifth trip to Texas for a bowl game, but its first since the 2009 Texas Bowl, when Navy routed Missouri, 35-13.
Brant B. Ringler, executive director of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, was in attendance at Saturday's game and joked that he wished he could have started selling tickets for the game at halftime, when the Midshipmen led 20-14.
"Our theme is to honor all the branches, and every year, we try to have an academy, and we've been fortunate to have one in six of the last seven years," he said. "So keep that ball rolling."
Saturday's win capped a perfect 5-0 record at home for the team, but coach Ken Niumatalolo said the victory was especially meaningful for the 22 seniors on the roster.
“It’s a storybook game for those seniors,” he said. “Those seniors played well. … I can just see them as plebes and just see all the things that they go through — the talks we’ve had in the office. ‘Don’t leave.’ ‘Stay here.’ ‘I don’t like this place.’ I’m so happy for them to be at this point, to be able to have some success, because this is a hard school to go to. But it’s meant that way, and it’s never going to change because we’re trying to produce tough people that are going to protect our country, and it needs to be a tough place. But I know I couldn’t cut it.”
Senior wide receiver Matt Aiken summed up the feelings of his classmates when he was asked about Navy's whirlwind of emotions after beating South Alabama (3-6).
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"It was amazing," he said. "It was such an emotional game for all of us. We knew it was going to be that way. It's just a great feeling to win and come out on top in front of our fans and in front of our families."