PHILADELPHIA – A team plays its most intense rival and loses every year. Mental? Physical? Rich Ellerson said it’s some of both.
‘I do think we're vulnerable to try and play out of our shoes and have one of those superhuman efforts because they knew they were playing a good football team,” the Army coach said. “There are so many things about this game and rivalry that can seduce you into something other than just trying to be your best self. Whenever you do that, it gets away from you. I think the guys were reasonably on guard against that. They were competing well and trying to have some fun.”
And perhaps one of the reasons they’re having trouble competing is because the Midshipmen, for whatever reason, just have better athletes. Not playing skills, necessarily, but athletic ones.
"I thought we closed that gap the last two years, but that gap has opened back up,” Ellerson said. “I think the score is as out of whack as it is because those things that will get you in any football game, turnovers and big plays. There is no doubt that this is a better Navy football team than we saw a year ago, and I've said that I think this is the best Navy football team since I've been here. We felt like we closed the gap the past two years, but this year you can't say that."
One thing you can say is that Army’s rushing offense – which ranked second entering the game – was off big time. Entering the game averaging 323.6 yards per game, the Black Knights were held to just 157, a season low. Navy, which was third nationally entering the game, with 320.1 yards, surpassed that, with 343. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds led with 136. Halfback Terry Baggett led the Black Knights with 41.
Baggett finished the season with 1,113 yards rushing, the ninth highest total in school history. He passed Charlie Jarvis, who rushed for 1,110 yards in 1968. Baggett has rushed 168 times in his career for 1,304 yards, a 7.76 average yards per carry which ranks second behind 1946 Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis (8.26)
Fullback Larry Dixon, who missed Army’s last game, against Hawaii, with a left wrist injury, returned, finishing with 33 yards.
“The doctors felt confident that with the cast and after a week of practice I would be ready to go,” Dixon said. “They asked me if I thought I could do it, and I said, `If I can walk, I can play.' This team is special, and I was never going to miss a chance to play. It didn't matter what was wrong with me. I made a couple of crucial mistakes, but my arm isn't to blame."
“We felt like Larry could play in that cast, but we had to be careful about what we asked him to do in terms of the reads and the meshes and whatnot,” Ellerson said. “They could figure that out. They know enough about mesh football that if he has a cast on this hand, they'll be doing certain things one way and not the other."
Everything is relative. If you’re an Army senior; you’ve played and lost to Navy four times. You’re not pleased. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to take a shot if given one. Linebacker Thomas Holloway was injured on just Navy’s sixth play from scrimmage.
“I hit the fullback pretty hard with my right shoulder, and I sprained my [anterior cruciate] joint. I went in and took some X-rays and they said they could give me some numbing medicine and I could come back,” he said. “They shot me up, and after halftime, they made a judgment call that I could go in. It hurts really bad, but I never would have given up the chance to play with my brothers one last time."
"I'm just really proud that I got the chance to play with these guys, especially Jarrett [Mackey],” senior offensive tackle Michael Kime said. “To watch Jarrett go through the adversity that he's had has really epitomized what it means to be a captain. I'm really glad I got a chance to play with all of the guys up here and in the locker room."
Conversely, Navy senior linebacker Cody Peterson seems to be getting a bit ho-humish about it.
“It’s a very special feeling to accomplish what we did,” he said. “I feel we did our job for Navy football and the culture of defeating Army is now a standard and as seniors as a group, we did our job.”
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel flipped the game-opening coin. The coin was supposed to be used by President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 game at Municipal Stadium. After JFK was assassinated the game in 1963 was delayed for seven days. After the game, Navy captain Tom Lynch received the coin from Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance.
Navy’s series record is 58-49-7; when the game is played in Philadelphia, the Midshipmen are 42--38-4. Next year’s game will be played Dec. 13 at M&T Park in Baltimore. The game returns to Philadelphia Dec. 12, 2015.
Daniel Grochowski converted his one extra-point attempt and finished the season 37 for 37, the seventh-highest number of PATs made in Army history. Grochowski is the seventh player with at least 35 attempts to convert each opportunity and the first since Joe Parker was 40-of-40 in 1996.
The victory clinched the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for Navy for the second straight year; the award goes to the winner of the round-robin series among Army, Navy and Air Force. Navy defeated Air Force 28-10. Army last won the trophy in 1996.