By Brian MurphyDecember 5, 2006
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Army News Service, Dec. 5, 2006) - They might be brothers in arms, but for one weekend a year they're heated competitors in one of the biggest rivalries in college football.
While neither team is considered a football powerhouse able to compete for a national championship, millions of televisions worldwide were tuned in as the Navy Midshipmen defeated the Army Black Knights 26-14 at Lincoln Financial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 2.
That's because tradition and esprit de corps trump team records and point spreads when the 3-9 Army Black Knights and the 9-3 Navy Midshipmen battle.
A Midshipmen victory meant their senior class would become the first in school history to go a perfect 8-0 against Army and Air Force, while any time Army beats Navy is a cause for celebration at West Point.
And this rivalry has withstood the test of time. Coming into their 107th meeting, Navy led the all-time series by a narrow 50-49-7 margin. All these subplots translated into a sellout crowd of more than 68,000 diehard fans willing to brave the less-than-tropical Philadelphia weather in hopes of seeing their favorite team win the most important game on the schedule.
The Black Knights struck first, scoring on a 41-yard rushing touchdown by wide receiver Jeremy Trimble with 8:25 left in the first quarter. The touchdown was scored on Trimble's first rushing attempt in his three years with the Black Knights.
Navy quickly responded, as they marched down the field on an 11-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown by Midshipmen running back Reggie Campbell. The game remained tied and neither team could muster much of an offense until Navy borrowed a play from the Black Knights' playbook, as wide receiver Jason Tomlinson scored a 31-yard rushing touchdown to push the Midshipmen ahead 14-7 with 8:23 left in the third quarter.
Trailing for the first time all game, Army would have to mount a memorable comeback if they hoped to defeat their chief rival. Unfortunately, their offense is still a work in progress, as the Black Knights led all Division I schools in turnovers this season with 35.
This problem would ultimately doom the Black Knights, as Army's freshman quarterback Carson Williams was picked off twice in the fourth quarter, ending any hopes of a comeback. Midshipmen safety Jeff Deliz intercepted Williams' first pass, leading to a 34-yard field goal to increase Navy's lead to 17-7 with 6:27 left in the game.
Three plays later Williams was intercepted again, this time by Navy cornerback Keenan Little who returned it 40 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. Things only got worse for Army on the next drive, as the Black Knights surrendered back-to-back sacks by Navy linebacker Tyler Tidwell - the second of which resulted in a safety that gave Navy a 26-7 lead with just over three minutes left in the game.
The Black Knights closed the scoring when Williams connected with tight end Tim Dunn for a 12-yard score with two seconds left in the game, but it was too little too late for Army, who closed out the season with six-straight losses.
"It's been real frustrating the past four years," said Army senior defensive end and co-captain Cameron Craig. "You put all your time and effort into this game right here. It's the pinnacle of our season. Now, I'll always reflect and try to guide the younger guys because we're done. It's over for us."
In the days leading up to the big game, Army head coach Bobby Ross was asked during a press conference what a victory over Navy would mean to the Black Knights.
"I would love to have this win; it would mean a lot to me," he said. "We don't have a chance to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy outright, so my focus is totally on the game. It's a rivalry game, and you always want to beat your rivals. It would mean a lot to a lot of people. It would mean a lot to our players, our troops, our school and our corps. I have given that a lot of thought; it is very important to me.
"I know it's an important thing," said Ross, whose resume includes nearly nine seasons as a coach in the National Football League. "Rivalries are good; I like rivalries. I'd like to see our rivalry get back to what it once was. To me, that is our responsibility. We have to play better. I think it's a great rivalry."
Bragging rights throughout the Defense Department hinge on the game's outcome, meaning each of these contests has a lasting impression on the participants.
"Ever since the end of the game last year, I've been thinking about it," said Black Knight linebacker Barrett Scruggs. "They're our rival and it's just one of those games that you live to play for. I've been living every day since the game last year to get another chance at beating them.
"This game means everything," Scruggs said. "It can make or break our season. A win can help us turn a page for our program."
In the end, Navy captured the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy the fourth straight year and Army left "the city of brotherly love" searching for some answers for next year's rematch.