- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | Trailing Army at halftime, Navy was officially in unfamiliar territory in what has been a lopsided rivalry of late.

So in need of a spark, all the Midshipmen 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 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.

Dobbs figured in both touchdowns - 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 held by Air Force’s Chance Harridge (2002) and Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007).

“We were going to try to put the ball in Ricky’s hands, in our ball carriers’ hands, and see if they could make some plays,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “They did a nice job of making some people miss and getting enough points for us to win this game.”

Army’s loss prevented it from clinching a spot in the EagleBank Bowl. Instead, UCLA will face Temple at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29.

The 110th meeting between the storied rivals was defined by mistakes, the difference being the Mids’ ability to capitalize on Army’s foibles.

In the first half, the Mids’ offense stalled because of self-inflicted mistakes. They had pass plays of 58 and 34 yards wiped out by holding penalties and committed two turnovers on top of that.

The first was a Dobbs interception on the Mids’ third drive of the game. Black Knights rover Steve Erzinger stepped in front of Nick Henderson’s slant route and returned it to the Navy 12.

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.

“Both of those turnovers killed us, but I thought our defense was very resilient in not giving them anything,” Niumatalolo said. “That could have been catastrophic for us if they had turned those into points.”

That kept the door open for the Mids to seize control of the game in the second half. With a scoreless first half, Navy had gone a full four quarters without a point dating to the Nov. 28 loss at Hawaii.

Unnerved by their futility, the Mids finally put it together on the opening drive of the third quarter, led by Dobbs. The junior carried seven times on the 11-play scoring drive, which was capped off with his strike to a wide-open Curry.

“To me, we were in a spot where we were desperate. Coming out at halftime, we had to get something going,” Dobbs said. “We knew we couldn’t come to a stall on that drive because it would set the tone for the whole second half. We knew we had 30 minutes left to put it all on the line. It was critical how everybody dug deep and pulled it out.”

Navy’s defense was simply dominant against the other service academies this season, not giving up a touchdown to either Army or Air Force (the Falcons’ lone touchdown was on an interception return). So it was fitting that Saturday the unit came up with the play that sealed the win.

Navy was still clinging to a one-score lead midway through the fourth quarter when, in the middle of a scrum, linebacker Ross Pospisil poked the ball away from Army fullback Kingsley Ehie. Craig Schaefer scooped up the loose ball for the Mids and returned it to the Army 12, and Dobbs punched it in four plays later to give Navy a 17-3 lead with 6:15 left.

“We got a read early on with the quarterback that when he was pulling his face mask, it was a dive play,” Pospisil said. “I kinda stuck my hand in there, hoping to get a piece of him. I didn’t consciously think about it.”

With the win, the Midshipmen (9-4) secured the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for a record seventh year in a row, and Niumatalolo became the first service academy coach to win the coveted trophy each of his first two years.

“You go into these games, and the one thing you think about is not letting down the guys in the past,” Schaefer said. “To pull away that win, there’s a sense of relief the weight’s off your shoulders that you got it done.”

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