Black Knights in bet­ter po­si­tion

While Army is soar­ing, Navy seems to sink

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - College Football -

PHILADEL­PHIA — A gen­eral’s pep talk about ac­tual life-and-death bat­tles emerged as a driv­ing force this sea­son for the Army foot­ball team.

In the Army, the gen­eral said, you win or you die.

Far more con­se­quen­tial than brag­ging rights on the foot­ball field, but use­ful for a team that no longer ends its sea­son against Navy.

“It is dra­matic,” team cap­tain Cole Chris­tiansen said. “But I think it’s helped us a lot.”

Chris­tiansen has been part of Army’s turn­around from peren­nial los­ing pro­gram to its lofty sta­tus to­day: ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1996, on a seven-game win­ning streak, headed to a bowl game and a seven-point fa­vorite Satur­day its 119th game against Navy.

The Army-Navy ri­valry of­ten has been known as pa­tri­otic — and for years, one of the most lop­sided in sports. Navy hooked an an­chor to the Com­man­der-in-Chief’s Tro­phy with a se­ries-best 14-game win­ning streak from 2002-2015.

The No. 22 Black Knights (9-2) are on top these days, win­ners of two con­sec­u­tive games in the se­ries head­ing into the Satur­day af­ter­noon con­test at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field.

The game last year was a clas­sic: Ben­nett Moehring nar­rowly missed a 48-yard field goal in the snow on the fi­nal play as Army held off Navy, 14-13 to win the CIC Tro­phy for the first time since 1996. Navy, how­ever, leads the se­ries, 60-51-7. “I feel a great sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure we win,” Army coach Jeff Monken said.

“We’ve won some close games and we didn’t win some of those the first cou­ple of years I was there.”

Navy (3-9) will have its first los­ing sea­son since 2002 and won just two games in its fourth sea­son in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence.

“Peo­ple ask what it was like to have the streak. The streak doesn’t mat­ter,” Navy coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said.

“Just like the loss doesn’t mat­ter. The only thing that mat­ters is (Satur­day).”

Army will play Hous­ton in the Armed Forces Bowl af­ter a sea­son in which it has been ranked for the first time in 22 years. But for the up­per class­men who ex­pe­ri­enced each mile­stone, no thrill has com­pared to snap­ping the mis­er­able los­ing streak to Navy in 2016.

Navy lost seven con­sec­u­tive games dur­ing the sea­son, its long­est los­ing streak since 2011. In­cluded in that dis­mal stetch, how­ever, were losses to five teams (Tem­ple, Hous­ton, Notre Dame, Cincin­nati, UCF) that will play in bowl games.

“This is def­i­nitely the tough­est sched­ule since I’ve been here, and I think peo­ple just quickly gloss over that,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “It’s OK, though. They ask you to win.

“I know (ath­letic di­rec­tor) Chet (Glad­chuk) doesn’t want to hear that. He says it’s ex­cuses. You’ve got to win.”

Navy joined the AAC in 2015 and has watched pro­grams like UCF emerge to make the con­fer­ence per­haps the best out­side the Power Five.

“Ev­ery­body in our league is try­ing to be the next per­son when ex­pan­sion hap­pens,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said.

“‘Hey, look at us. Come pick us. We’ve got the fa­cil­i­ties.’

“Ev­ery­body’s ramped their game up, to their credit.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Army play­ers and coaches run onto the field af­ter de­feat­ing Navy 21-17, in Bal­ti­more, Md last sea­son. With Army ranked No. 22, the Cadets (9-2) will try to beat Navy (3-9) for the third con­sec­u­tive time Satur­day.

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