Navy Seniors on Cusp of Service Sweep
Friday, December 1st 2006, 6:06 am
News On 6
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ If the Midshipmen (8-3) win the 107th Army-Navy game Saturday would, they will capture the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy outright for the fourth straight year and make the senior class the first in school history to go 8-0 against Army and Air Force.
``I hope that's extra motivation. It should be,'' said Paul Johnson, Navy's fifth-year coach. ``But at the same time, I'm sure that Army's got some motivation because the senior class doesn't want to go out not having won, so you can twist that any way you want.''
The annual patriotic rivalry game has turned into pure revelry for Navy, outscoring the Black Knights (3-8) by a 176-54 margin the last four years. The Midshipmen can equal their longest winning streak in the series with a victory at Lincoln Financial Field, matching a pair of five-game series winning streaks, most recently from 1959 through 1963.
``The past few years have been horrible,'' Army co-captain Cameron Craig said. ``Navy has just come out and kicked our butts pretty good the last two years. The internal motivation for everybody throughout the entire offseason is to get that win,'' against Navy.
The series always has meant so much more than the final score, though. The bond. The brotherhood. Sacrifice.
Now there's another subplot for Johnson _ rumors. Since taking over a program that was 1-20 the previous two years before his arrival in 2002, Johnson has returned Navy to national prominence. Navy has won at least eight games each of the last four seasons, and will play in the Meineke Bowl against an opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference on Dec. 30 for its fourth straight bowl game.
``It's a whole different standard set here at the Naval Academy,'' Navy co-captain James Rossi said. ``Now, we expect to win a lot of games.''
No longer is Army-Navy the final game of the year for the Midshipmen, even if it's still the most important. That's made Johnson's name popular at big-time schools with coaching vacancies.
He was mentioned at North Carolina before Butch Davis was hired, and Johnson is reportedly on the short list of potential candidates at both Alabama and N.C. State. Johnson, a native of Newland, N.C., who graduated from Western Carolina in 1979, has brushed off speculation he's ready to bolt the service academy.
``I don't think much about it,'' he said. ``I haven't thought about it at all. I'm thinking about trying to get ready to play Army. ... I think that's a compliment to the program, to the players and the assistant coaches. I learned a long time ago that you don't believe everything that you read.''
Overall, Johnson is 36-24 in five seasons at Navy after winning a pair of Division I-AA national titles at Georgia Southern.
Johnson has won seven straight times against the other two service academies, allowing Navy to grab the series lead 50-49-7. Navy leads the series for the first time since 1991.
In Naval terms, a clean sweep refers to a completely successful mission, with a broom hoisted to the main mast in celebration. While the Midshipmen are used to accomplishing such feats on the sea, they have no experience with sweeping their storied rivals on the field. The Mids beat Air Force 24-17 in October, setting the stage for the senior-class shutout.
``Ever since earlier this year when we beat Air Force, it's definitely been in the back of our heads,'' said Rossi, a senior center. ``It's a huge opportunity for us not only to beat Army four years in a row, but to beat both four years in a row is a real big deal for us.''