Navy had every right to be disappointed after its 52-31 loss to Houston on Saturday, which prevented the team from qualifying for a championship game matchup against Temple in its first season in the American Athletic Conference.
But after their flight back to Annapolis and a good night's sleep, the Midshipmen knew Army would be the next game on their schedule, and they cheered right up.
"When you lose a game, it hurts regardless of who it is," Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds said Wednesday before the Army-Navy luncheon at Lincoln Financial Field. "But in light of what we have coming up, putting it behind us wasn't the hardest thing to do.
"We realize that [Army] is the biggest game on our schedule. That's the No. 1 goal of our program every year, to beat Army. So the loss [stunk] but we have bigger things to do, and that's to beat Army."
The Mids' entry into the AAC presented a challenge. Usually Army and Navy get three full weeks to prepare for the renewal of their annual inter-service rivalry on the second Saturday of December, this year Dec. 12 the Linc. But the Mids would have played in each of the two open weeks had it defeated Houston, a grind that may have taken a toll.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said his team wanted a chance to be the Group of Five (AAC, Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA, Sun Belt) representative in a major bowl. But he conceded that one week of preparation for Army would have been difficult.
"If it happened for us, we wouldn't make any complaints, we'd do the best we can," he said. "But to get ready for our rivals in one week would have been a tough game. We're fortunate now to have two weeks."
Navy (9-2) is ranked 22d this week behind the play of Reynolds, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior who set an NCAA record this season for career rushing touchdowns with 83 and is one off the overall Division I record.
The Mids enter the 116th overall matchup - and 86th to be played in Philadelphia - with a 13-game winning streak in the series. The Black Knights' last victory, 26-17, in 2001, came in the final Army-Navy game at Veterans Stadium.
A win over Army would enable to Mids to retain the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy presented to the winner of the football competition among Navy, Army and Air Force.
Army (2-9) has endured a hard-luck season. It lost two games (Wake Forest, Tulane) on a field goal on the final play, and another (Rice) on a touchdown pass with 24 seconds remaining. Three other losses came by six points or fewer.
"I think each week, we've come back and battled to try to get better," second-year Army coach Jeff Monken said, "and the guys recognize the things that we can do as a football team to improve. I think we've improved every week and gotten better as a football team, and that's what I've been really proud of."
The Black Knights have an uncertain quarterback situation. Sophomore Ahmad Bradshaw has started seven games and senior A.J. Schurr three but both were unavailable because of injury for their Nov. 21 contest against Rutgers. So freshman Chris Carter, who had never taken a single varsity snap, filled in and is listed at No. 1 on the depth chart for Navy.
Both Monken and Niumatalolo worked on the same staff at Navy during the tenure of head coach Paul Johnson from 2002 through 2007. When Johnson left to take the Georgia Tech job, Monken went with him, and Niumatalolo became the Mids' new head coach.