PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Navy had boarded the bus and headed for the exit of the Philadelphia Eagles practice facility when coach Ken Niumatalolo ordered it to stop.
Niumatalolo handed bottled waters reserved for players and staff to security guards at the gate to help them cool off on a warm day.
That’s not a surprise to the Midshipmen.
He’s the kind of coach that grabs bags after charter flights home, no task too menial, not even for the head of a program that hooked an anchor in the AP Top 25 and kept the Midshipmen at the top of the most patriotic rivalry in sports.
“All the players see it,” Navy QB Keenan Reynolds said.
Niumatalolo has put all of college football on notice with the job he’s done at Navy.
Billed as “America’s Game,” Navy (9-2) has defeated Army (2-9) a series-best 13 straight times and 15 of the last 16 games.
Lincoln Financial Field, home of Temple football, will be stuffed with cadets and midshipmen standing, bouncing and cheering the entire game on Saturday. Beating Army has become an annual tradition for Navy. None of the Mids wants to be associated with a team that ended the streak.
Already at 7-0 against Army, there’s a chance Niumatalolo could walk away from the series with a perfect record.
Niumatalolo is set to meet Monday with officials at Brigham Young University to talk about its coaching vacancy. His agent told the Annapolis Capital-Gazette the meeting would take place and that Niumatalolo “feels strongly” about listening to BYU’s pitch.
The series stuffed with pageantry, ceremonies and tradition — and Navy’s “May The 14th Be With You” Star Wars parody video — will now have an unnecessary distraction for Navy.
Niumatalolo could tie former Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik (8-8-2) for most wins in the series. Navy leads the series 59-49-7.
“I can’t tell everybody our secrets,” Niumatalolo said. “Army might be listening.”
This game usually ends the season for Army. Navy has one more game left against Pittsburgh (8-4) in the Dec. 28 Military Bowl at Annapolis, Maryland.
Here are some things to know for the 116th Army-Navy game:
LOSING STREAKS: Navy’s winning streak against Army is the second longest of any uninterrupted FBS series, according to STATS.
— Florida vs. Kentucky, 29, 1987-2015.
— Navy vs. Army, 13, 2002-14.
— Oregon vs. Washington, 12, 2004-15.
— USC vs. California, 12, 2004-15.
— Virginia Tech vs. Virginia, 12, 2004-15.
— Wisconsin vs. Minnesota, 12, 2004-15.
HEISMAN SNUB: Reynolds has a 30-13 career record as a starter, and his numbers this year brought his name into the conversation as a potential Heisman Trophy finalist. His 83 career rushing touchdowns are tops among FBS players, and his 4,279 rushing yards lead the school’s career list. Reynolds can become the first quarterback to go 4 for 4 in a classic rivalry that began in 1890.
“I’m just a product of our offense,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds was named the game’s MVP in 2012 in Philadelphia. He escaped a rush and followed with an 8-yard touchdown run with 4:41 left in the game to lift Navy to a 17-13 victory.
Reynolds had been leading the Heisman fan vote when ESPN removed his name from the ballot. After fans and media complained about the process, ESPN put Reynolds back on the ballot on the main page and he won the fan vote 38 percent to 34 percent over Alabama running back Derrick Henry.
“It’s great to be in conversation,” Reynolds said. “Every kid has that dream of hoisting that trophy, but that’s not why you play the game. It’s bigger than individual awards.”
FAMILAR FACE: Army coach Jeff Monken has enjoyed plenty of wins in the series — though none as head coach of the Black Knights.
Monken, 0-1 in the series, was an assistant at Navy from 2002-2007.
Monken said former Navy coach Paul Johnson was responsible for building a winning culture that not only allowed the Mids to dominate the series, but become a Top 25 team.
Monken also knows he can’t let his team dwell on the lengthy losing streak.
“This football team has never lost to Navy and that is the way we have to approach it,” he said. “These guys are not responsible for the last how many years it’s been. They are responsible for this team and this year.”
GAMEDAY: ESPN’s “College GameDay” is in Philadelphia for the second time this season.
The popular pregame show was in town for the Oct. 31 Notre Dame-Temple game.
ESPN will set up Saturday morning for the only FBS game on the schedule at Xfinity Live, an entertainment center across the street from Lincoln Financial field. The game is televised on CBS.
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