Black Knights in better position
While Army is soaring, Navy seems to sink
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.”
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.