PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Rich Ellerson is sponsoring a cadet from Slovenia at West Point, and Thanksgiving only validated what Army’s second-year coach has long known.
“His family came to visit. It was only their second time in the country,” Ellerson said. “Only the dad speaks a little bit of English. They don’t know football from third base. They’d never been to West Point before, and they drive through the Thayer Gate. By the time they get to our house, they don’t know anything about football, but they know we better beat Navy.”
Easier said than done, of course.
“All they had to do was drive down the street and look at the front of everybody’s house,” Ellerson continued. “They’re not sure what the heck that means, but they know we better beat Navy. Our guys have clearly grown up with that.”
Have they ever. And it’s been a little too painful for far too long at West Point.
The programs meet on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in yet another installment of this proud rivalry, and none of these Black Knights has experienced the exhilaration of beating Navy. The Midshipmen, in fact, have defeated Army eight straight times and hold a 54-49-7 advantage in the series. Last year, Navy won, 17-3.
But you wouldn’t know it by listening to Army. The Black Knights (6-5), after all, are bowl bound for the first time in 14 years, and as a result, they are brimming with confidence.
“We’re a better team (than last year),” senior defensive end Josh McNary said. “We will redeem ourselves. We will win. There is no next time for us. It’s the last game.”
Give credit to McNary, who has 27 1/2 sacks and 48 1/2 tackles for loss in his career, both program bests at West Point, for having the right mindset. But it’s going to take more than words to right this ship.
Navy’s streak is the longest in the series by either academy, and began with a 58-12 rout in 2002. The scores that followed aren’t pretty, either: 34-6, 42-13, 42-23, 26-14, 38-3, 34-0 and the aforementioned 17-3.
“Clearly, this (beating Navy) is something that’s been missing in their time here, something that they can’t wait for another opportunity to right the balance sheet, if you will,” Ellerson said. “Eight is enough.”
Take a closer look, and it’s even more impressive. The Middies (8-3) have surrendered just six points over the last three games and have not allowed a touchdown since the fourth quarter of the 2006 game.
“We talk about it all the time,” Navy senior cornerback Kevin Edwards said. “That’s what we live for, not giving up points. If we can go this week and not give up a touchdown again, I think that would make the win even sweeter.”
It looms as a more difficult task this time, though.