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Cadets march to poignant triumph

With America at war, the final score was not the only thing that mattered on a springlike December day in South Phila.

This article was originally published on December 2, 2001.

In between the sharply angled parade of Midshipmen and Cadets and the moving renditions of both academies' alma maters, they played the Army-Navy game for the 102d time yesterday.

Army's 26-17 victory before 69,708 fans at Veterans Stadium was neither as artistic nor as dramatic as most of its predecessors in the flag-draped rivalry.

There were, after all, five interceptions and a handful of fumbles, and if any of these quarterbacks are destined for the artillery or a gunship, they might want to spend some time on the target range first.

"The game today was obviously not pretty," Army coach Todd Berry said after his first victory in a series Army now leads, 49-46-7. "It wasn't a perfect game, but I don't think I've ever been in one that was perfect. The only thing I know is that when you look up at the end and see who's won, that's the only thing that matters."

But it wasn't the only thing that mattered on this springlike Dec. 1 in South Philadelphia

America is at war, and, very soon, many of those Army and Navy players who were blocking and tackling with passion - if not quite the skill of many of their major-college counterparts - might be, too.

"Obviously 11 September changed all of our lives," Berry said. "This game had more significance because of that. I'm very, very proud of these young people knowing that they may be going over there to serve our country. Obviously, as their coach, I'm going to be thinking about that for a long time."

There were three long Army touchdown plays that ultimately guaranteed that Navy would be 0-10, finishing a football season without a victory or tie for the first time since 1883.

Freshman Ardell Daniels' 60-yard run on the Black Knights' sixth play.

Receiver Brian Bruenton's 42-yard reception eight Army plays later.

Omari Thompson's back-breaking 96-yard return on the second-half kickoff.

"Those plays really got us going and got us fired up even more than we already were," said quarterback Chad Jenkins, who was less than spectacular, completing 8 of 19 passes with four interceptions and one touchdown.

But it was during the interruptions that the spirit pervading this first wartime game in nearly three decades was most keenly felt.

Cannons fired and anthems stirred. Parachutists wafted down to midfield and F-16 jets soared noisily overhead. More than 8,000 uniformed Midshipmen and Cadets roared constantly. President Bush made the traditional presidential march from Navy's side to Army's at halftime. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf spoke of "Duty. Honor. Country."

Americans had looked to this annual December extravaganza with more interest this year. It was as if these football players were stand-ins for the American military personnel serving in and around Afghanistan.

"Obviously, it's the biggest rivalry in college football," Army senior center Dustin Plumadore said. "Everyone looks to this game, even more so this year because of what's been going on.

"I know people kind of wanted to reach out and touch something of the Army and Navy. They probably aren't getting as much visual opportunity to reach out and touch those soldiers. I think us playing this game was a way for them to reach out.

"To win that, with everybody watching, in our last game together, was just the greatest moment of my life."

Plumadore, like the rest of Army's seniors, just picked his branch of service - field artillery. Later, they will select a post. Then, if the war on terrorism has not ended, many of them will be entering it.

"It will be an honor to serve our country," senior linebacker Brian Zickefoose said. "In some ways, we can't wait to get started."

Getting started was not a problem for Army yesterday. On second and 10 from their own 40, Daniels, a little-used freshman, took a delayed handoff from Jenkins on his team's first series.

The 5-foot-9 speedster from North Port, Fla., cut left and outran several much slower defenders to the end zone.

"I wasn't trying to bring him along slowly," Berry said when asked how a back with Daniels' speed could have gained just 90 yards coming into the season-ending game. "He kind of brought himself along slowly because he suffered a bad ankle sprain early in the season."

Less than five minutes later, with 7 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, cornerback Clyde Clark dived for a wobbly Jenkins pass. He missed. Bruenton did not, and, with the defender on the turf, sprinted easily into the end zone. Derek Jacobs missed the extra point, and Army led by 13-0.

Clark "was playing aggressively, and that's the way you're supposed to play in an Army-Navy game," Jenkins said.

On defense, the Cadets' task was simple against what amounts to a one-man, one-dimensional Navy show.

"We knew coming in that they were going to try to run Madden every play," Zickefoose said, referring to quarterback Brian Madden. "We really concentrated on stuffing that."

Navy's option attack produced just 97 yards on the ground on 37 attempts, with Madden picking up 75 of them on 21 carries. Constantly under pressure, Madden was consistently off-target with his passing - he was 5 of 22 for 42 yards.

"We had a hard time offensively," said Madden, a senior who finished his career as Navy's seventh-leading rusher despite playing just 13 games. "We never got it going and never clicked. I think the best team won today."

The Midshipmen could manage just three David Hills field goals, from 44, 47 and 20 yards, until the third-string quarterback, Craig Candeto, hit Steve Mercer on a 4-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left.

Navy was trailing by 13-3 when two consecutive plays - separated by nearly a half-hour - put the game away for Army.

With five seconds left in the half, Anthony Miller's blocked punt led to Jacobs' gift 39-yard field goal as time expired. Then, on the kickoff beginning the second half, Thompson faked a reverse and ran 96 yards for a touchdown that dispirited Navy.

"That was a big lift for us," Thompson said. "I wasn't going to let anybody catch me."

Navy kept getting the ball back regularly after that, thanks to Jenkins' four interceptions, but could not squeeze anything more out of the possessions than field goals.

"Having to settle for three field goals was pretty frustrating," Madden said. "The culmination of going 0-10 and not playing well is tough."

For all those seniors who walked together from side to side to hear the postgame alma maters, things may get tougher still.