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With Navy streak history, confident Army goes for back-to-back wins

The Black Knights broke a 14-game losing streak to their service academy rival last year, and seek to make it two in a row Saturday at the Linc.

Army coach Jeff Monken instructs players during win over Duke in November.
Army coach Jeff Monken instructs players during win over Duke in November.Read moreHANS PENNINK

For more than a decade, much of the pregame talk around the Army-Navy rivalry focused on "The Streak," the domination that the Midshipmen enjoyed over the Black Knights, not to mention bragging rights around the world.

After winning the 2001 matchup in the final Army-Navy game played at Veterans Stadium, Army lost the next 14 games. None of the first nine games in that span was decided by one possession, a dynamic that gradually changed in the next five contests, four of which had a final margin of a touchdown or less.

The Black Knights finally broke the streak last year at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore with a 21-17 victory and, more important, changed the conversation going into Saturday's 118th Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field.

"For the rivalry itself, we needed to win. It's not a rivalry unless you win sometimes," Army coach Jeff Monken said. "But it also really boosted the confidence of our team, of our program.

"For 14 years, and maybe not the first few years, but as it happens over and over and over again, there becomes this opinion that your program is inferior, your team is inferior, you can't beat those guys, they're too good, and maybe that was the case.

"But being able to win gives our guys the confidence that we are good enough to win this game, that if we execute our fundamentals and our assignments, that we can give ourselves a chance to win. So it was important from a confidence standpoint more than anything."

Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who scored the eventual winning touchdown on a 9-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, confirmed the value of the win.

"We prepared for that game just like any other game," he said. "I think more than anything, it gave us confidence to know that we can win games and we can beat Navy and we can get it done. So I think winning that game just gave us the confidence."

The Black Knights enter this game believing a repeat is possible, based on an 8-3 season, their most wins entering the Navy game since 1996. This will be the first time they go into this contest with a better record than their opponent since 2001.

The Mids are 6-5 but have lost five of their last six. The focus the last two weeks, however, has been on preparing for Army, and coach Ken Niumatalolo seemed pleased that there are no more questions about "The Streak."

"You never want to lose, and you never want to lose to your rival," said Niumatalolo, whose team is 10-0 versus Army at the Linc. "But I think they've talked about the burden that's been lifted, but maybe it's on both sides because everybody always talked about the streak. The media talked about it, but we always talked about the game because that's all we can focus on.

"Last year doesn't have any bearing on this year. The streak prior to that doesn't have any bearing on this game. We have to get ready for the 2017 Army team, and that's always been our approach."

Monken agreed that there is no carryover from the previous year.

"I told our team every year I've been here, like last year when I said, 'You're not responsible for the 14 teams before this one, you're only responsible for this game, so let's focus and try to win this game this year with this team,'" he said.

"That's the same thing we've got to do this year. What we did last year has nothing to do with what's going to happen [Saturday]. We're going to have to execute if we're going to have a chance to win and beat a really good team."