PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jeff Monken’s second season at Army in 2015 ended with 10 losses and a record 14th straight defeat to Navy.
While it pointed to more of the same for a struggling program, Monken was confident a West Point turnaround was imminent thanks to successful recruiting and the number of close losses.
Monken was proven right. He guided Army to a long-awaited and emotional comeback win over Navy last season followed by a bowl victory. On what could be a snowy renewal one of the nation’s top rivalries, the Black Knights (8-3) enter the 118th meeting with Navy on Saturday as a bowl-bound team again, holding a better record than the Midshipmen (6-5) for the first time since 2001.
“The cadets have fully bought into what he’s doing,” Army athletic director Boo Corrigan said.
Behind their humming triple-option offense, the Black Knights strung together six straight wins before a 52-49 loss at North Texas in their last game Nov. 18. Army has won 11 of its past 14 games and clinched consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1989-90.
“It’s good for our football team to feel confident,” said Monken, one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.
Senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who scored the go-ahead touchdown against Navy in the fourth quarter of last year’s 21-17 victory in Baltimore, has an Army single-season record 1,472 yards rushing.
Securing a second straight win over Navy for the first time since 1996 in what’s billed as “America’s Game” won’t be easy. The Midshipmen, who have played a tougher schedule, started 5-0 and spent a week at No. 25 in the AP Poll before dropping five of six.
Navy, which lost 31-21 to unbeaten Central Florida and 24-17 to Notre Dame, opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite and leads the all-time series 60-50-7.
For an added twist, the forecast calls for accumulating snow for most of the day Saturday.
Quarterback Zach Abey, who made his first college start last year against Army, has a team-best 1,322 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns along with seven TD passes. The speedy Malcolm Perry, who has 1,437 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns, has also seen time under center.
“People ask because you lost last year, do you want to win more?” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who is 8-1 against Army. “It never changes. There’s no added motivation. It’s Army.”
Things to watch for in the 87th Army-Navy matchup in Philadelphia and 13th at Lincoln Financial Field:
COVETED TROPHY: For the first time since 2012, the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is on the line. It’s presented annually to the winner of the round robin between the three major service academies. Army (21-0) and Navy (48-45) both beat Air Force. Navy has held the trophy 10 of the past 14 years, last in 2015. Army hasn’t had it since 1996.
WHAT A RUSH: Snow may not affect these triple-option offenses that much. Army enters No. 1 in the nation at 368.1 yards rushing per game. Navy is No. 2 at 347.5 yards. Army has completed 18 passes all season, in 60 attempts. Navy is 41 of 99 through the air. “If it wasn’t for the commercials, this would be a really, really fast game,” Niumatalolo said.
TRYING TIME: Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper missed a practice this week after his 14-year-old son, awaiting a heart transplant, was hospitalized.
PERFECT NO MORE: Navy had been 12-0 at Lincoln Financial Field, including 10-0 against Army, until a 34-26 loss to Temple on Nov. 2 at the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Army beat Temple 31-28 in overtime at home on Oct. 21.
PAGEANTRY: Pregame festivities begin three hours before kickoff with the march-on of the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen. “My favorite part is running out of the tunnel and seeing the jets or Apache (helicopters) flying over,” Army senior defensive end John Voit said. “I’m going to soak that in as much as I can.”
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS: The days of simple jerseys and gold helmets for all are gone. Navy will wear all blue in tribute to the Blue Angels flying team that includes helmets depicting the Delta Formation and a number font similar to the tail of a F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. Army will be in all-white in a nod to the 10th Mountain Division of World War II, also known as the Pando Commandos. Cleats include the mascot, a panda on skis.
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