ANNAPOLIS, MD. (AP) - Upon arriving at the Naval Academy, the Midshipmen are immediately instructed how to make their way through Bancroft Hall, the largest dormitory in the world.
Step One: Cut the corners tightly. Step Two: Know your enemy.
“From the first day you get here, they teach you when you square your corners and all, whether you’re a football player or a regular student here, you say, ‘Go Navy, Sir, Beat Army, Sir,’” senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs said. “Every day.”
Go Navy. Beat Army. The battle cry has echoed throughout the Naval Academy for well over a century.
“It’s the No. 1 game we want to win every year,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
“You can be 0-11 going into this game, but if you win, it just solidifies the whole season,” Dobbs said.
Navy will be going to the Poinsettia Bowl later this month, but that game isn’t nearly as important as Saturday’s 111th meeting between the nation’s most prominent service academies.
“The bowl game is icing on the cake,” Dobbs said. “This is the biggest game of our careers, the Army-Navy game, and it’s time to go get it.”
The Midshipmen have won an unprecedented eight in a row in lopsided fashion, outscoring the Cadets 291-74 over that span. When the teams renew the rivalry that began in 1890, Navy’s senior class will be looking to become the first in history to complete a four-game sweep without allowing a touchdown.
Beating Army has always the first priority, but to do so again without allowing the Cadets to reach the end zone would be downright historic.
And the Midshipmen know it.
“I’m definitely aware of that. We talk about it all the time,” senior cornerback Kevin Edwards said. “That’s what we live for, not giving up points. If we can go this week and not give up a touchdown again, I think that would make the win even sweeter.”
Edwards and linebacker Wyatt Middleton are part of a defense that has yielded only two field goals in three games against Army. Although Navy (8-3) lost its seven-year grip on the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy by falling to Air Force in October, that streak of holding the Cadets without a TD is very much intact.
“People remind me about that in the Hall,” Middleton said. “That would definitely be an accomplishment. If we come prepared to play our game, hopefully we can keep that going.”
Navy’s 24 seniors have never lost to Army. Middleton can’t even bear the thought of having the academy’s eight-game streak end Saturday in Philadelphia.
“How are you going to hit a home run if you’re thinking about striking out?” he said. “I haven’t really thought about that at all.”
The Cadets have. They are just as programmed to know the importance of beating their chief rival.
Army (6-5) will play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30, but the Cadets are only thinking about ending that awful losing streak against Navy.
“That is absolutely part and parcel to our culture,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “Our value system revolves around this game to some degree. Clearly, this is something that’s been missing in their time here, something that they can’t wait for another opportunity to right the balance sheet, if you will.”
John Mumford, who coaches Army’s defensive ends and has been at West Point for 11 years, said of the senior class: “I think in their eyes it’s a part of their own validation that they have left their mark on the program and left it better than when they got here.”
Niumatalolo realizes Navy’s winning streak against Army won’t mean a thing Saturday.
“Those games have no bearing on this one. We’re just looking at this game,” he said. “The history is done with.”
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in New York contributed to this report.
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