In the 115th edition of the annual Army-Navy game on Saturday, the Black Knights will look to put an end to a lengthy 12-game losing streak in the series.
That losing streak to Navy dates back to 2002 – the longest in the history of the rivalry. Army, under the guidance of first year head coach Jeff Monken – a former Navy assistant – hopes Saturday will be the day its fortunes in the rivalry change.
“That’s the No. 1 objective,” Monken said of beating the Midshipmen. “This being our last game, we’ll try to play the best that we’ve played all year.”
The Black Knights have won two of their last three games and are 4-7 in Monken’s first season. Monken, who said his team still has plenty of room for improvement, thinks a huge statement can be made to propel the program forward with a win on Saturday.
“We don’t feel like we’ve played a complete game from start to finish,” Monken said. “I can’t think of a better football game to do that in.”
Monken was an assistant at Navy from 2002-07 under Paul Johnson alongside current Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo, so he certainly knows what’s at stake.
Niumatalolo, currently in his seventh season leading the program, boasts a 55-35 overall record and can become the winningest coach in Navy history, passing Hall of Famer George Welsh (he already passed Johnson), with a win. He could also become the first Navy coach to ever go 7-0 against Army.
“I guess the word I think about is honored, just honored to be mentioned with those guys,” Niumatalolo said. “There have been a lot of great football coaches that have come through here and helped build this program.”
Niumatalolo’s team won its last two games over Georgia Southern and South Alabama in order to clinch bowl eligibility at 6-5.
Both teams rely heavily on the run via the triple option. The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing with 357.8 yards per game and Navy’s Keenan Reynolds, just a junior, set an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns in a career for a quarterback – 61 – earlier this season. Reynolds ran for 136 yards and three scores in Navy’s 34-7 win over the Black Knights last season, setting another NCAA record for rushing touchdowns in a season for a quarterback in the process.
Additionally, Reynolds, who ran for 1,082 yards and 20 touchdowns while also throwing for 749 yards and five scores this season, has been named MVP of the past two Army-Navy games.
Army, led by quarterback Angel Santiago (793 yards, 10 TDs) and 239-pound power back Larry Dixon (1,012 yards, 9 TDs), has a solid rushing offense of its own. Navy allows 199.8 rushing yards per game, so opportunities should be there for the Black Knights to eat up yardage. Senior Terry Baggett averages 7.6 yards per rush and should also see a handful of carries.
With his experience in the rivalry, Monken knows what he’s up against with Navy. He hopes a win on Saturday can provide a catalyst for his program moving forward and compared his program's current state to that of Navy in 2002.
"I think the situation is eerily similar to the one we went into at Navy prior to the 2002 season," Monken said. "I'm glad I had that experience under coach Johnson, seeing the changes that were made that really impacted our ability and opportunities for our players to succeed and have a winning football program.
"Regardless of the outcome of this game, we are a work in progress. Some people think it can't be done here. I believe quite the contrary. Now it's going to take time. It's a process. You need to have a vision for the future and then you must stay the course and work really hard to see that vision become a reality.”
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