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Improved Army team hopes to end losing streak against Navy

Stephen Anderson owns a sense of satisfaction in that Army football turned around during his final season, particularly after he came back from two torn knee ligaments to play a pivotal role on defense.

Stephen Anderson owns a sense of satisfaction in that Army football turned around during his final season, particularly after he came back from two torn knee ligaments to play a pivotal role on defense.

Though the Black Knights are headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1996, there remains one task for Anderson and his fellow seniors - go out with a victory over Navy on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field to break an eight-game losing streak that seems like 50 games to Anderson.

"Everybody is talking about the bowl game and stuff, but we just look at it as, hey, we haven't won this game in eight years," said Anderson, Army's middle linebacker and leading tackler. "It's almost embarrassing. Here we are, we're supposed to be a rivalry in college football, but where is the rivalry at?

"We, as seniors, have seen three years of it. So we've had three years to make our mark on this game. The younger guys, they don't understand. Eight years is a long time to not win a game, and [a win] is something that the other captains and I want to have a chance to experience. Our main goal getting ready for this game is to make sure everyone understands how much that means."

The Black Knights (6-5) have broken several streaks this season under second-year coach Rich Ellerson but want more. A win over Navy (8-3) would assure them of their first winning season since 1996.

Ellerson, however, has been careful in preparing for this game. He has wondered aloud why Army has played poorly in its two highest-profile games this season, a 42-22 loss to Air Force and a 27-3 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame, a team Navy beat.

"We haven't been able to step onto this big stage with the bright lights and the high expectations," he said. "We stepped into those [two] environments, and we didn't handle it very well. I'm not saying we're good enough to beat those teams, but we'll never know because we didn't play our best football.

"My challenge is not to convince them that they have to do something that they haven't done before. On the contrary, I've got to get them in the moment so they can do what they normally do, and they know exactly what to do."

Navy, meanwhile, is enjoying what has become a typical season. The Mids are going to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, the eighth consecutive year they have played in the postseason. Two more wins will enable their seniors to tie for the winningest class in academy history with 36 victories.

But for the first time since 2003, Navy will not win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy on Saturday because it already lost by 14-6 to Air Force. All three service academies are going to bowls in the same year for the first time.

"You can never get complacent," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We've always got to continue to push the envelope to be successful in the parameters of the mission of the academy. I'm not saying change the mission, but just know that the other two are pushing the envelope to get better and to catch us."

The Midshipmen will have the most dynamic player in the game in senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs, last year's Army-Navy game MVP. He is a dangerous runner who knows how to keep the defense honest in Navy's triple-option attack.

Still, Dobbs understands the Black Knights will be tougher this season with the return of Anderson, whom he calls "the heart and soul of their defense."

"Stephen Anderson is a terrific football player," he said. "They're riding an emotional high, they're having a great season. We're just going to be able to weather the storm and take every hit they throw at us and try to be perfect."

Anderson said the pain of last year's loss was worse than in the previous two years because he couldn't help his team while standing on crutches on the sideline. He said remembering the game gave him extra motivation during his rehab.

Now, he said, he wants "to put my fingerprints on the Army-Navy game this year."

"When we got bowl eligible after we beat Kent State, I don't think I've ever felt that good after a game," he said. "But beating Navy would be a factor of eight because I've had eight years to build up on it. It would be great to just experience it."