- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

Two seasons ago, first-year Navy coach Paul Johnson led a 1-10 Navy team into its annual battle with Army. The Midshipmen crushed the Black Knights 58-12 that day and haven’t stopped winning, collecting back-to-back bowl game invitations.

“I think we built on [the Army win in 2002],” Johnson said. “There’s no question that we had some momentum.”

Some interesting parallels can be drawn between that Navy team and the current Army squad. The Black Knights have been one of the worst teams in the nation the last two seasons, losing 19 straight at one point.

Army hired former Maryland coach Bobby Ross to revive the program. Ross won a national championship at Georgia Tech and led the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl, but this might be his toughest task yet.

“We’ve just started climbing the mountain, and we’re not there yet by any stretch of the imagination,” Ross said. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. I’m very pleased with the progress that we’ve made; not with our win-loss record, but we’ve played some tough football teams and our challenge during the regular season has been a tough one. In most cases, we’ve been seriously mismatched size-wise.”

The Black Knights (2-8) have taken some steps in the right direction this season. Ross junked the pass-happy offensive system former coach Todd Berry used with little success in favor of a traditional run-first attack.

Junior tailback Carlton Jones has been the biggest beneficiary, rushing for 1,171 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Zac Dahman has been more efficient in Ross’ system, completing nearly 56 percent of his passes. Last season Army quarterbacks threw 25 interceptions; this year that number is down to eight.

“I think they play harder,” Navy’s Johnson said. “They do things better fundamentally, and what they are doing gives them a better chance. They are trying to run the ball to set up the pass, as opposed to passing the ball to set up the run. I just think with the type of athletes we get here at the academies, that probably works a little better.”

Despite the losses, Army is much improved. After getting blown out in nearly every one of their record-setting 13 losses in 2003, the Black Knights have lost four games by fewer than 10 points this fall. A win today could have an impact similar to that for the Mids two years ago.

“I can see Army taking the steps towards reaching a bowl game,” said Black Knights senior linebacker Greg Washington, who leads the nation in tackles with an average of 13-plus a game. “Right now we are proud of Navy [for giving] a great representation of service academies. Even though we are service academies and not big Division I programs, we can still become bowl eligible.”

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