PHILADELPHIA | Through the first 30 minutes of Saturday's Army-Navy game, it looked like the Midshipmen were still stuck in the haze that plagued them two weeks ago against Hawaii.
But in need of a spark, all they had to do was turn to their best playmaker, quarterback Ricky Dobbs.
Dobbs had 33 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown — setting the single-season NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in the process — and Navy extended its dominance over Army to an eighth straight season with a 17-3 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
With the win, the Midshipmen (9-4) secured the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for a record seventh year in a row.
Dobbs figured in two touchdowns on the day — a 25-yard hookup with slotback Marcus Curry in the third quarter and a 1-yard run in the fourth — to secure game MVP honors. The rushing touchdown was Dobbs' 24th of the season, eclipsing the record Florida's Tim Tebow set in his 2007 Heisman Trophy season.
The 110th meeting between the storied rivals was defined by mistakes, the difference being the Mids' ability to capitalize on Army's foibles.
The Navy defense, playing against the familiar triple-option, was stout all afternoon. And when the Black Knights crept into the red zone in the second half, they were unable to come away with much-needed points.
The game remained tight deep into the third quarter, but the Mids were able to break it open when defensive captain Ross Pospisil raked the ball away from fullback Kingsley Ehie. Tony Haberer scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Army 11.
Dobbs punched it in four plays later to give Navy a 17-3 lead with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter.
Army, on the other hand, couldn't take advantage of Navy's first-half mistakes. The Mids were uncharacteristically sloppy and prevented themselves from at least tying the game and probably taking the lead into the break.
Their first mistake was a Dobbs interception that set up Army's lone points of the first half. On the first play of the Mids' third drive of the game, they tried to sneak in a play-action pass. But the play was read perfectly by Army rover Steve Erzinger, who stepped in front of Nick Henderson's slant route for the pick and returned it to the Navy 13. The Navy defense held firm, though, and forced a chip-shot field goal.
Then, on the Mids' next drive, fullback Vince Murray just dropped a handoff, giving Army the ball near midfield. Navy's defense was on point again, however, and forced a punt.
It didn't get much better for the Mids' offense as the first half progressed. The least penalized team in the nation, they had a pair of drive-killers in the second quarter.
On second-and-8 from the Navy 35, a 58-yard completion from Dobbs to sophomore receiver Nick Henderson was negated by a holding call. The play would have set the Mids up with a comfortable first-and-goal situation.
Later in the quarter, another holding call negated a first-down completion to Mario Washington. And as it was, Army took a 3-0 lead into halftime.
But the Mids' offense was finally able to sustain a drive on their first of the second half, with Dobbs leading the way. He carried six times on the 11-play scoring drive, which was capped by his touchdown strike to a wide-open Curry.