Navy knocks Army out of bowl picture, wins 8th straight in series
PHILADELPHIA -- Navy has turned sports' most patriotic rivalry into one of the most one-sided.
The Mids did more than extend Army's series misery in the 110th meeting between the two service academies, they denied the Black Knights their first bowl bid in 13 years.
Ricky Dobbs ran and threw for a score to help Navy beat Army 17-3 on Saturday for their eighth straight win in the series. The loss ended the Black Knights' chances of playing in their first bowl game since 1996.
"There won't be a greater feeling than being able to beat Navy and just be able to go a bowl game," Army quarterback Trent Steelman said.
It's a feeling that will have to wait.
Dobbs set an NCAA single-season record for touchdowns scored by a quarterback with 24, and threw the go-ahead TD to help Navy improve to 54-49-7 overall against Army and take its biggest lead in a series that began in 1890.
Navy won the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, awarded to the team with the best record in games between the three service academies, for a school-record seventh straight year.
"This isn't the biggest college football rivalry in sports," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "This is the biggest rivalry in sports."
The Mids (9-4) have a postseason date against Missouri in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 31. Army (5-7) would have played in the EagleBank Bowl with a win, but that matchup is now Temple vs. UCLA at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 29.
"That's what we strive at every year," Steelman said, "just coming out and having a winning season, getting this thing turned around and bringing back the tradition Army football had for so long."
For the first time in a long while, there was more on the line in an Army-Navy game than bragging rights. Army blew its chance of marching into a late-December bowl with a series of turnovers and missed field goals.
That was enough for Dobbs and the Mids in their final tuneup for Missouri.
Dobbs threw a 25-yard TD pass to Marcus Curry in the third quarter to give Navy a 7-3 lead, and Dobbs' 1-yard run late in the fourth made it 17-3. It also broke Dobbs' tie for rushing TDs by a quarterback with Air Force's Chance Harridge (2002) and Florida's Tim Tebow (2007).
"That was one of the hardest teams we faced all year," Dobbs said.
Navy has won a service academy-record 15 consecutive games against Army and Air Force. Its last loss to a service academy was against the Falcons in 2002.
The Mids are one win shy of tying their single-season record (1905, 2004), but this one wasn't a rout like so many of Navy's wins in the series this decade. The Mids outscored the Black Knights 78-3 the last two years, including a 34-0 victory last season.
"For us to say we're going to come and blow out Army would be disrespecting them," Niumatalolo said.
In front of 69,541 fans at Lincoln Financial Field, Army scored the only points of the first half on Alex Carlton's 23-yard field goal. The 3-0 halftime lead may not have seen like much to an Army program looking for respectability under first-year coach Rich Ellerson, but it marked:
•The first time Army led at halftime in the series since 2001.
•The first time Navy was shutout in the first half of the series since 1993.
•The first time Army led Navy since the first quarter of the 2006 game.
"We didn't make it easy for them," Ellerson said.
The Black Knights could have put more points on the scoreboard. Carlton missed an earlier field-goal attempt, and they had to settle for three after getting just 6 yards following an interception return to the Navy 12.
The Mids took advantage of the opening. Dobbs went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the third and became only the third Navy QB to reach that milestone. He found a wide-open Curry for the Mids' first lead, and Joe Buckley tacked on a 36-yard field goal.
"I didn't think I was going to be that wide open, but it worked out that way," Curry said.
Carlton missed another field goal in the fourth and Army lost a fumble.
With cadets and midshipmen standing, bouncing and cheering the entire game, it was clear how much the rivalry means to both sides.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates flipped the coin and team highlights were played to Rocky's "Gonna Fly Now." Billed as "America's Game," fireworks went off as both teams stormed the field waving their school flags during introductions.
"I'm in awe of these young men," Niumatalolo said. "They come to the Naval Academy, they come to West Point when we are a nation at war with more than one conflict. We have more than one conflict and they still decided to come and protect our freedoms."
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