Ailing Navy seeks 15th straight win over Army
Tuesday, December 6 at 5:22 PM (EST)
An injury-marred Navy will have to rely on some backups to earn its 15th consecutive victory over Army in the 117th meeting between the archrivals Saturday in Baltimore.
Midshipmen starting quarterback Will Worth and slotback Toneo Gulley suffered season-ending injuries in the American Athletic Conference championship game last week against Temple. Tago Smith, who opened the year as the starting quarterback, and linebacker Daniel Gonzales, a co-captain with Gulley, went down earlier in the season.
As a result, the Black Knights have a prime opportunity to end a 14-year losing streak, the longest drought in the history of the series. However, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is 8-0 against Army and the Black Knights know he will have an effective game plan ready to maintain that success.
"I feel terrible for the guys that got injured in that last game," said Army coach Jeff Monken, whose team enters the game with six wins for the first time since 2010. "Those kids have had great seasons. They mean so much to their team, and playing in this game means so much to them. It's tough to lose players like that, but Kenny does such a great job that he'll have somebody step in at each one of those positions and they'll be ready to go."
Another challenge is that Navy (9-3) did not have the usual extra week to prepare for Army because of the AAC championship game. The Black Knights, on the other hand, have not played since Nov. 19 when they beat Morgan State 60-3.
This will be the first time since 1941 the Midshipmen have not had more than one week to prepare for its game against Army (6-5).
"You don't want to make excuses, but it's not the most ideal situation," Niumatalolo said. "When we joined the league, we saw that was going to be the schedule. The championship game would be right before this game. I don't think you want to do anything to change (Army-Navy) being a standalone game and what it represents to our country. Obviously, you'd like some time in-between."
This is also the second time Navy has to thrust a new quarterback into the starting lineup to run the triple option. Worth took over the job when Smith went down with a knee injury in the season opener. Worth then broke a bone in his foot in the 34-10 loss to Temple, forcing sophomore Zach Abey into action.
Abey completed 7-of-13 passes for 104 yards with two interceptions. He also had 70 yards on 14 carries, including a 47-yard scamper late in the third quarter.
Abey hopes the extended reps this week in practice will get him ready for the biggest game of not only the season, but of his life.
"It is going to be a big responsibility, and I will be up for it," said Abey, who will be making his first career start. "As a second stringer, you have to warm up every game as if you are going to play, which showed today. My preparation is going to be the same and act as if I am going to play anyway. I will be ready to play next Saturday if that comes to it."
Slotback Darryl Bonner was also lost for the season against Temple. The Midshipmen, however, are deep at that position and Niumatalolo is confident other players will take advantage of playing time, with Calvin Cass Jr. likely to serve as the primary back.
Nonetheless, this appears to be an advantage for the Black Knights' defense, which is ranked second nationally behind Michigan in total yards allowed (3,178). Army is led by a pair of talented linebackers in Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf. King has five sacks, while Timpf who managed 88 tackles, including nine for a loss.
"This game is the biggest game of the year," Timpf said. "The guys are going to come out fired up in Baltimore."
Navy leads the all-time series, 60-49-7, and is 3-0 against the Black Knights in games played at M&T Bank Stadium.
Navy's focus, however, is solely on this year and not the previous 14 victories.
"We never really talk about the streak," Niumatalolo said. "We just talk about beating Army. Nothing from any other years matters this year. It's not like you can carry over points or anything. We just have to get ready for this game."