Watching the last two Army-Navy games from the sideline, Lonnie Richardson could only imagine what it would be like if he had an opportunity to be in the middle of the action.
That chance could come Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field when Richardson, a junior defensive back for Navy, is likely to see action for the Midshipmen against the Black Knights in the 114th meeting of the rivals. And it could be beyond his wildest imagination.
"I have pictured it in my mind," said Richardson, a Chester native and graduate of Strath Haven High. "But I don't think I can simulate the feeling, the emotions that I feel. I remember in the Air Force game that my heart was racing. I felt like I was playing at a whole different speed. But I feel this game is going to be elevated 10 times, 100 times more."
It will feel that way for the participants on both sides. The Midshipmen (7-4) want to extend their 11-game winning streak in the series, while Army (3-8) seeks to end the longest run by one side against the other in a series that began in 1890.
While Richardson, who sat out last year with a knee injury, will be taking the field for the first time in the classic, Army defensive end Jarrett Mackey, a fifth-year senior, will be involved for the final time. He and his 27 fellow seniors want to go out with a victory.
"It probably won't hit me until I step out on the field in terms of emotions and everything that culminates five years with this one event," said Mackey, who missed the 2011 contest with a knee injury. "It's my fifth one but it'll be a great one and I'm looking forward to going out there and putting Army back on top."
The game matches two of the nation's top three rushing offenses. The No. 1 Black Knights, who lost their top returning runner, senior Raymond Maples (West Catholic), to a groin injury in the season's third game, have found a capable back in junior Terry Baggett, who has rushed for 1,072 yards, an 8.2-yard average, and eight touchdowns.
Navy has been sparked by sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who has amassed 1,124 yards and 26 touchdowns, one off the NCAA single-season record for a quarterback.
"He can make plays with his legs, he can make plays with his arm, and he can make plays with what's between his ears," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "He is a very competent, cool, and calm operator. He sees the game very well and keeps them out of bad situations."
Thanks to the long layoff, each team should have an extra body or two in the backfield following injuries. Army's Hayden Tippett (ankle) and Navy's Noah Copeland (leg and foot) and Chris Swain (hamstring) all are expected to play. Copeland led the Midshipmen with 99 rushing yards in last year's 17-13 win over Army.
Of course, with all the attention on the running game, a pass completion in the clutch could be valuable. It was that way last season when Reynolds hit Brandon Turner for 49 yards to set up his own 8-yard run for the decisive touchdown.
The stakes Saturday are high. Navy wants to maintain its winning streak and Army would prefer to start a streak of its own. The seniors yearn to say that they won their last Army-Navy game. Servicemen and women around the world will be watching.
"It's a whole lot of pressure because you want to win for the seniors," Richardson said. "But at the same time, we realize it's just a game. We have to have fun. Once you're having fun and flying around, the pressure kind of goes away."
When: Saturday at 3:10 p.m.
Where: Lincoln Financial Field
TV/Radio: CBS3; WIP-AM (610).
Records: Army, 3-8; Navy, 7-4.
Coaches: Army, Rich Ellerson (5th season, 20-40); Navy, Ken Niumatalolo (6th season, 47-30).
Series: Navy has won its last 11 games against the Black Knights, including last year's 17-13 decision at the Linc, and holds a 57-49-7 advantage. This is the 114th matchup between the service academies and the 85th to be contested in Philadelphia.
Pregame: The Corps of Cadets will march on at 12:16 p.m., followed by the the Brigade of Midshipmen at 12:46 p.m.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Army will have its hands full trying to stop sophomore Keenan Reynolds, the most dynamic quarterback to play at Navy in quite some time. Reynolds gained only 43 yards on the ground against the Black Knights last season, but has rushed for 1,124 yards and 26 touchdowns this year.
The Black Knights have worked two quarterbacks in practice and have not disclosed their starter. Junior Angel Santiago has started all 11 games this season but sophomore A.J. Schurr came off the bench two weeks ago at Hawaii and rushed for four touchdowns as an Army rally came up just short.
Navy leads the nation in fewest turnovers with eight, while Army has committed 14.
THREE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Each side has five sets of brothers. For Army, it's Terry and Lance Baggett, Julian and Jordan Crockett, Shane and Evan Finnane, Tony and Joey Giovannelli, and John and Adam Szott. The Navy brothers are Kendrick and Kenneth Mouton, Wave and Blaze Ryder, Chris and Myles Swain, Obi and Nnamdi Uzoma, and Joe and Will Worth.
Even with the intensity of the rivalry, Niumatalolo and Ellerson have remained close friends. They met in the mid 1980s when Ellerson, then the defensive coordinator at Hawaii, successfully recruited the current Navy coach to play quarterback there. Niumatalolo is quick to acknowledge Ellerson's role in getting him involved in college football.
Thanks to Navy's victory earlier this season over Air Force, the Midshipmen will retain the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. But they are eager to defeat Army and win the trophy outright because that means a White House ceremony with President Obama.
- Joe Juliano