When I watch an Army-Navy game, for those three hours, I feel like I am transported into a different world of college football. Forget the $500 million dollar stadium the game is played in and all the television cameras covering every angle of the action, there is just something different – in a good way -- about the game that cannot be denied.
Maybe it’s because the option offense that both teams employ has disappeared in major college football over the past 30 years. Maybe it’s because the game elicits the true sense and spirit of a rivalry, more than any Auburn-Alabama or Ohio State-Michigan game ever could. Maybe it’s because of the extremely blunt reality of what is on the horizon for these young men in the very near future – the seniors especially.
These young men –these soldiers-- have enough on their daily plates to make the average man shudder. With the rigors of a football season piled on top of the rigors of the expectation of academic excellence piled on top of the rigors of military training, I can’t help but wonder how that all fits into the 24 hours we are allotted daily.
The focus Saturday will be on the playing field, not any the other distractions and controversies in today’s college football world. It is football in its purest form. These young men “play for the love of the game,” some might say, because in the grand scheme of things that’s what it is: a game. It’s easy to forget that there are bigger things than college football.
These young men will be enemies on that field for 60 minutes on Saturday, but when the game ends, they are brothers.
After the final whistle sounds, pay close attention to the best example of this brotherhood. Both teams meet and face the stands of the losing team, and they sing the team’s alma mater. When the song ends, both teams will turn and face the stands of the winning team and sing the winning team’s alma mater. It is the best example of sportsmanship and respect in college football.
The game is special. It means more. And in a football sense, it represents the true essence and grit of collegiate athletics and does so on a nation-wide scale. Everyone knows someone who has served in the military, and this game brings these brave men and women of the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy together in a prideful and respectful fashion.
"There's always something special when the service academies play each other that's not in any other game. This is not a regular game and everyone involves knows it,” former Navy quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach once said.
So when you plop down on your couch at 3 p.m. Saturday to watch the 114th Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, take it all in to try to understand what Staubach means. It’s a special atmosphere and a special game.
Game Preview: Army Black Knights (3-8) vs. Navy Midshipmen (7-4)
These two teams have had seasons go in completely different directions. The Black Knights have won just three games and are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, including close losses to Western Kentucky and Hawaii the past two weeks. Army’s last win came on October 12 – a 50-25 triumph over Eastern Michigan. Conversely, the 7-4 Midshipmen are on a three-game winning streak and recently accepted an invitation to the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee State. Navy has beaten BCS foes Indiana and Pitt and lost on the road to Notre Dame by just four points on Nov. 2.
With two option offenses going head to head, defenses will key on the quarterback and running backs of the opponent. Navy’s sophomore quarterback, Keenan Reynolds, is coming off a record-setting performance in Navy’s triple-overtime win over San Jose State. Reynolds ran for seven touchdowns, including the game-winner, as he became the fourth Midshipmen quarterback in program history to throw for more than 1,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
The seven scores gave Reynolds 26 on the year, just one shy of the NCAA record, so that will be something to keep an eye on Saturday. And when Reynolds isn’t keeping the ball on the option, look for backs like Quinton Singleton, Geoffrey Whiteside and DeBrandon Sanders to see some carries.
Army coach Rich Ellerson has not revealed who will start at quarterback for the Black Knights. The two options are junior Angel Santiago and sophomore A.J. Schurr. Santiago started the first 11 games of the year, but was pulled at halftime of the Hawaii game. Schurr offers more of a passing threat than Santiago, so Schurr’s presence could help the Knights with the ground game, as the Navy safeties will have to respect the threat of a deep pass.
Ellerson told reporters to expect both to play. No matter who is at quarterback, expect running back Terry Baggett to receive a substantial workload. The junior surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in the Hawaii game, giving him 1,072 yards on just 130 carries (8.4 ypg).
Both defenses face tall tasks in stopping two of the top three rushing attacks in the country. The frigid conditions in Philadelphia bode well for these defenses that are undoubtedly familiar with the option offenses they’ll face.
Like any game, turnovers will be key. These two coaches will take a win-at-all-costs mentality into this game, especially Ellerson. The Black Knights have lost 11 straight times in the series, so they will take any shot they can to get on the scoreboard. They have lost by a combined 10 points in the past two years, will this be the year the streak ends?
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