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Smooth sailing for Navy

Midshipmen march to easy victory

This article was originally published on December 7, 2008.

All the elements were there for a classic Army-Navy game: the pregame march-on by cadets and midshipmen, the parachute jumpers from both academies, the flyovers by jets and helicopters, the attendance of President Bush.
There was every element except one - a competitive football game.

Once again, Navy dominated a plucky but overmatched Army squad beginning with its third play from scrimmage, a 65-yard touchdown dash by Shun White, and trounced the Black Knights, 34-0, before a sellout crowd of 69,144 at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Midshipmen (8-4), who will play in the EagleBank Bowl against an opponent to be determined, posted their seventh straight victory in the 109-game series and now lead, 53-49-7.

The more telling statistic is that Navy has outscored Army by 274-71 in those seven wins, which raises the question: Why has this rivalry become so lopsided?

"I don't know," Mids coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We don't really try to evaluate it too much. We just try to take it one game at a time. Army is always there in the back of our minds because they're our rivals, but during the season, we just think about the game at hand. But we're going to continue to try to do our best to stay ahead of both them and Air Force."

Yesterday marked Navy's record 13th consecutive win over Air Force and Army, and it wrapped up its sixth straight Commander-in-Chief trophy.

The Black Knights, shut out by Navy for the first time since 1978, finished 3-9 for the second straight season. Second-year coach Stan Brock said he thought his team made progress, despite the look of yesterday's contest.

"I don't think the difference between the two academies is 34 points," Brock said. "I think we're pretty similar in athletic ability. Mentally, Navy is stronger. Maybe that has something to do with me.

"We have a plan in place to build the program. Hopefully, I'm allowed to stick with the plan. We have to continue to get better players. . . . When you get your butt kicked like that in a rivalry game, you'd be fooling yourself to think that anybody will be pleased."

The Army players came out wearing camouflage helmets and pants - with the words "Duty. Honor. Country." on the back of their jerseys - but the ground game belonged to Navy.

The nation's leader in rushing, Navy rolled up 368 yards and held a 430-154 advantage in total offense. White gained 148 yards on 13 carries and scored one touchdown rushing and one receiving. Fellow senior Eric Kettani picked up 125 yards on 24 carries with one score.

The most noteworthy play for the Black Knights came at the end when fullback Collin Mooney gained 1 yard to become Army's single-season rushing leader with 1,339 yards. Mooney rushed for 54 yards, less than half his average coming in.

"I said earlier in the week it would come down to who executes better, and their defense executed better than our offense," Mooney said.

In reality, the game came down to two big plays in the first quarter.

White, who runs a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, took a pitch from senior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada around the left end, got a big block from wide receiver Tyree Barnes, and was gone, scoring just 2 minutes, 52 seconds into the game.

"Coming into the game, Coach wanted me to bust a long run," White said. "I told him if you give me a chance, I could probably take it to the house. I think it was a very important play to get our offense going. From that point on, we were like a steamroller."

On Navy's next possession, a fourth-down snap sailed over the head of punter Kyle Delahooke and rolled into the Mids' end zone. But Army had a punt return on, and Delahooke coolly scooped up the ball, checked for rushers, and boomed a punt to the Black Knights' 46.

"I think that was the turning point of the game," Niumatalolo said. "I was yelling at him to take the safety, don't give them a touchdown, but he kept his composure and got the punt off."

When it was over, Army stood somberly in front of its band to hear the school's anthem. The Navy players then dashed over to their corner of the Linc and high-fived as many midshipmen as they could before singing their song.

As for never losing to Army, a beaming Kaheaku-Enhada said, "It's nice. It means we didn't drop the ball."

Nutter wants to keep game. Mayor Michael Nutter, attending his first Army-Navy game, said the city would be "aggressive in retaining this game because we think it belongs here," in its bid to keep the service-academy rivalry in Philadelphia when a new contract begins with the 2010 game.

He also said he didn't think the poor economic climate put any one city at a disadvantage.

"The economics that have hit Philadelphia are not unique to this city," Nutter said. "All the other cities across America are experiencing the same thing, so as far as I'm concerned, that's a wash. We start with our history, our tradition, our competitiveness, and the package that we can put together.

"We have more hotel rooms in downtown Philadelphia than any other city that's trying to compete against us. I know it's tough economic times, but the playing field is actually level on that."