- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

PHILADELPHIA — Navy has looked more impressive in other games this season.

There was a nearly flawless 63-point victory over Central Michigan, a gutsy victory over Air Force that broke an 18-year winless streak against ranked teams and a handful of other solid performances.

Yes, the Midshipmen have played more effectively than they did at Lincoln Financial Field yesterday, but that really didn’t matter to the brigade. What mattered most was the end result — a win over Army.

It can come in any way, shape or form, and yesterday it came by way of a deceivingly one-sided 34-6. Deceiving or not, the win gained Navy its first Commander-In-Chief’s trophy since 1981, making its ugliest win of the season also its most important in 22 years.

“At times we didn’t play as efficiently as we could have,” coach Paul Johnson said. “But we continued to fight and found a way to win the football game. This was a great finish to a storybook regular season.”

Quarterback Craig Candeto followed up his six-touchdown performance of a year ago with just 56 yards rushing and an interception. Winless Army was intent on silencing him, but fullback Kyle Eckel was more than happy to take advantage as he played in front of about 40 family members and friends.

The South Philadelphia native rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP. He wore down the Black Knights’ defense in the first half with punishing short-yardage runs and capitalized in the second half, averaging more than 6 yards a carry and scoring both of his touchdowns. His 12-yard run midway through the fourth quarter epitomized his day as he broke through a crowded line, bounced outside and dragged a pair of Black Knights into the end zone with him.

“It’s a big game, and it’s really emotional,” Eckel said. “Emotions were flying high in the first quarter. We were just trying to play out the emotion, and after awhile things started to click.”

Navy harnessed the emotion on its opening drive, charging down the field to take a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. But the offense stalled after the 74-yard opening drive and managed only a pair of field goals by Eric Rolfs the rest of the half.

A touchdown and missed extra point by Army made the score 13-6 at the half, but as has been the case all season, Navy made the necessary adjustments and carried the play after the break.

Defensively, Navy spent the first half adjusting to the absence of leading tackler Josh Smith, who underwent an emergency appendectomy Wednesday night. The Mids used two freshmen, Kevin Newsome and Dujuan Price, to fill in for the safety, making for a five-man secondary.

Though the Mids allowed Army 153 second-half yards, they came up with two interceptions deep in their territory.

“We weren’t as good as we have been,” defensive back Eli Sanders said. “They got in the red zone, but we held them. We kept them out of the end zone, and that’s what’s important.”

For Navy’s seniors, a group that won three games over its first three seasons, yesterday’s win was further redemption. Navy is going to the Houston Bowl on Dec.30, its first bowl appearance since 1996. The Mids will learn their opponent tomorrow.

“For three years, we didn’t get much payoff no matter how much we put in,” linebacker Eddie Carthan said. “To only win three games in three years — it’s hard to get all that back in one season. But 8-4 and a bowl game is pretty good.”

Army, which became the first major college to finish 0-13, has lost 15 in a row — the nation’s longest such streak — and 24 of 25. It was the Black Knights’ third loss in four years to Navy, which still trails in the series 49-48-7.

Army fired coach Todd Berry after starting the season 0-6, and interim coach John Mumford won’t be considered after going 0-7.

“There’s a good team in there, in those kids,” Mumford said after the game. “I couldn’t get it out of them. They need confidence. they need to win.”

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