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Army-Navy: Past means little in this storied rivalry

Hopes were high for Navy and Army when the 2012 season began but September proved to be an unkind month.

Hopes were high for Navy and Army when the 2012 season began but September proved to be an unkind month.

The Midshipmen posted a 1-3 record that month, their only victory coming against a Football Championship Subdivision team. The Black Knights lost on all their four Saturdays of competition in September, and that counted a loss to an FCS team.

But it's how the two service academies have progressed since that shaped their seasons. Navy captured seven of its next eight games and grabbed a bid to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Army, however, won only twice, with turnovers and inconsistent defensive play a problem.

The coach of each team will tell you the past makes no difference when Army (2-9) and Navy (7-4) are on opposite sidelines, something that will happen for the 113th time Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.

For Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo, the past includes the last 10 years, which is the length of Navy's winning streak in the storied series, as well as a 2012 run of success that began with a 28-21 overtime win over Air Force on Oct. 6 and included a victory over Indiana, the Mids' first against a Big Ten opponent since 1979.

"They're a good team," he said of Army. "They have been in a ton of ball games. They've missed out on some close opportunities. They were 7-7 with Rutgers in the fourth quarter. You look at the records of the teams they've played, we'd be very foolish to even look at their record."

As for Navy's success, Niumatalolo said, "We're fortunate to win some of the games we've won.

"We just try to work hard. We've got some hard-nosed kids, some good kids like Army does. Our biggest thing is to try to play to the intangibles of teamwork, work ethic, discipline, all those things, try to maybe overcome some of the lack of size and speed."

Army played the tougher schedule in 2012. The Black Knights' opponents have a winning percentage of .590 and six are headed to bowls. They played the three winningest Mid-American Conference teams - champion Northern Illinois, Kent State and Ball State.

Navy's opponents compiled a .519 winning percentage. Five are going to bowls, a total that would be six if it were not for the NCAA sanctions against Penn State.

Army coach Rich Ellerson has seen his team go through difficult times - a one-point loss to Northern Illinois and a late collapse against Rutgers that was fueled by three lost fumbles.

"A couple of weeks we laid an egg but most weeks we just battled our tails off but the scoreboard was upside down," Ellerson said. "It really is frustrating. We know how hard we're working and how much progress we've made. This is an opportunity to validate so much of that."

Army's most positive moment came on Nov. 3, a 41-21 victory over Air Force that broke the Black Knights' 13-game losing streak against the Falcons and Navy, and gives them a chance to take home the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy on Saturday.

"Beating Air Force brings a little extra into the equation," Ellerson said. "We've had a tough year but that gives us some confidence that you might not otherwise see from a group like this because of that win."