- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

The game on the field was a blowout. The show on the video screen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was far more riveting.

With Navy cruising to a 39-7 victory over Eastern Michigan two weeks ago and the teams set to return after a TV timeout, all eyes turned to the suddenly darkened screen, where rain was falling and headlights approaching. A car screeched to a halt. Then the words, “It’s kinda like that,” appeared. The final shot was a close-up of Kyle Eckel — director, producer and starting fullback — grasping a football.

“I even caught a couple of the coaches watching,” Eckel said of the clip, which kept rolling as play resumed.

Eckel and his friends made the brief film as a hobby in keeping with Navy’s tradition of showing home movies during game breaks. Yet fans undoubtedly would rather see the 235-pounder starring on the field rather than the video screen.

Eckel won a three-way battle for the fullback job out of preseason although he missed substantial practice with a knee injury. The injury cost him the start in the opener against VMI as coach Paul Johnson picked senior Bronston Carroll, who had practiced every day.

Late in the first quarter, Eckel got his hands on the ball for the first time. Before he ws through, he had rumbled for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries to help the Mids to a 37-10 victory over the Keydets.

But in the same number of carries, he rushed for just 50 yards against then-No.25 TCU and lost a costly fumble inside the Horned Frogs’ 5 with the Mids up 3-0 in the first half. TCU went on to win 17-3.

“I need to be more consistent,” Eckel said. “I feel much more comfortable when I come out [on the field] after halftime. I’d like to have that same feeling when the game begins.”

When Navy (2-2) meets Air Force (5-0) today at FedEx Field, a slow first half by Eckel might lead to a meaningless second half in a battle of the nation’s two top rushing teams. The Falcons’ 309.2 yards a game on the ground is second only to the Mids’ 311.8. Each team features a balanced attack, with seven players averaging more than 50 yards but none topping 100.

Eckel dominates the Mids’ carries in the middle of the field while the sideline running is spread among three players. Quarterback Craig Candeto is averaging nearly a yard less a carry but is still the second leading rusher on the team. Slotbacks Eric Roberts and Tony Lane have big play potential and average more than 10 yards a carry each.

Air Force’s running attack is led by quarterback Chance Harridge. The senior scored 22 touchdowns last season and averaged more yards a game rushing (95) than passing (82).

“I think because of the year their quarterback had last year, everybody is keying on him and he’s not putting up the numbers,” Johnson said. “But he’s their guy. He’s the straw that stirs the drink.”

Notes — The meeting between Navy and Air Force is the first this year among the three service academies in their annual battle for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. Air Force has won it 13 of the last 14 years, with Navy’s last victory coming in 1981. Since the inaugural year of the three-way competition in 1972, Air Force has won the trophy 17 times.

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