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Navy in Command

Midshipmen's romp is 4th straight over Army

This article was originally published on December 4, 2005.

With 5 minutes, 34 seconds left in yesterday's 106th Army-Navy game, the Lincoln Financial Field scoreboards seemed as unnecessary as the capes the Corps of Cadets wore.

Fans of Navy's Midshipmen, bouncing in unbridled unison, passed around a cardboard cutout of President Bush in a "Beat Army" T-shirt and chanted in wide-mouth glee.

Meanwhile, on the subdued Army side, the long gray line had long gray faces again.

Navy collected touchdowns on six consecutive possessions starting in the second quarter in a surprisingly lopsided 42-23 triumph.

The victory gave the Midshipmen four consecutive victories over their military rivals, the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, and a tiebreaking 50th win in this venerable and colorful series.

Army has been outscored, 176-54, in the last four meetings. The rout temporarily quieted talk about how second-year Cadets coach Bobby Ross had narrowed the gap with Navy, talk that apparently inspired Navy's coaches and players.

"We had beaten Army the last three times we played, but you wouldn't have known it to listen to the media," said Navy coach Paul Johnson, now 4-0 in the matchup. "We wondered if we were good enough, and I think that played to our advantage."

Army helicopters rumbled above the sellout crowd of 69,322 before the game and Army astronauts were honored at halftime. But the 4-7 Cadets could never get off the ground against a 7-4 Poinsettia Bowl-bound Navy team that was quicker on both sides of the ball.

Navy, which employed an option attack to lead the nation in rushing this season - averaging 286.7 yards a game - amassed 490 yards on the ground as it established a series record with 531 yards of total offense.

Army led, 10-7, midway through the second quarter when Navy quarterback Lamar Owens' 28-yard, tackle-busting sideline run became the second touchdown in an impressive scoring streak that didn't end until Adam Ballard's 67-yard scoring burst on the fourth quarter's first play.

The touchdown by Ballard, who was so wide open that he glanced up at the Jumbotron screen to verify that no Army defender was following, gave Navy a 42-17 advantage. Johnson, who has won seven of eight meetings with Army and Air Force, then began clearing his bench.

"The offense did a great job," Navy linebacker Jake Biles said. "It's hard to do things wrong on defense when the offense is scoring like that."

Owens, the game's MVP despite completing just 3 of 5 passes, ran for three touchdowns and 99 yards. Fullback Ballard rushed for 192 yards, including his 67-yard touchdown and another from 28 yards out.

"I thought going into the game that the team that ran the ball best would win," said Johnson, who missed a day of practice this week with a bad back and admitted he was in considerable pain in the second half, "and certainly we were able to run the ball a little better than they did. . . . It's a little bit frustrating when you get the ball run down your throat."

Army, which wanted to hold the ball and keep it away from Navy's speedy backs, accumulated a mere 82 rushing yards. And once Navy took a commanding lead, the Cadets had nothing they could rely on except but Zac Dahman's short sideline passes.

In the end, the only thing Army did better than Navy was parade into the stadium during the pregame march-ons nearly three hours before the game.

"We took a beating," Ross said. "It was very disappointing to end our season the way we ended it. Navy beat us in just about every phase of the game. We were playing well when it was 10-7, but then we just couldn't stop them."

Army senior Carlton Jones ran for 80 yards on 22 carries and caught an 18-yard touchdown pass with 7 seconds left in the third period. Dahman completed 23 of 35 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns, the last two coming long after the outcome had been decided.

The Cadets couldn't contain Owens' option maneuvers nor the power runs of Ballard, a sophomore who was making just his second start.

"We had some success on the perimeter," Ballard said, "and that opened things up inside."

Soon many of these players will begin their tours of duty in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Army linebacker Barrett Scruggs, in fact, wore a patch commemorating a soldier - Pvt. John Henderson Jr. of Columbus, Ga. - who was killed in August after less than a month in Afghanistan.

"We do think about that [the ongoing war]. We've been here four years and we have guys we coached who are over there," Johnson said. "But these guys all know what they signed up for. That's why I have a lot of respect for them and what they do."

As the teams gathered for the traditional postgame alma maters, Midshipmen fans swung brooms after their team's fourth consecutive rout of Army. Several Navy players entered their locker room yelling "Sweep! Sweep!" knowing that Owens and his fellow seniors will leave Annapolis without having lost in this brass-buttoned rivalry.

"I'm excited for our football team and our seniors," Johnson said. "It's a big deal for the Brigade and all the sailors and Marines out there. I think this year was a little more special because everyone told us we weren't as good and that Army had caught us."

And Army's seniors will walk away without the one victory they wanted most.

"It's pretty hard to swallow," Dahman said, "knowing you went four years and didn't beat Navy."