- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — It was unseasonably warm Monday afternoon on Navy’s football practice fields, and less than a fortnight remained before the Midshipmen would complete their season.

It was a jarring combination given the program’s recent history.

While the Mids’ bowl streak will end at eight years, they still have a Dec. 10 date with Army at FedEx Field. In short, there is plenty of meaning left in Navy’s season.

No, the Mids didn’t win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. And they won’t reach eight wins, as has been their custom. Nor will they take their anticipated place in the Dec. 28 Military Bowl after a 27-24 loss at San Jose State on Nov. 19 dropped them to 4-7.

But beating Army (3-8) — especially at the end of a disappointing year — can always help salvage Navy’s season.

“We can’t do anything about the past,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We have the biggest game of the year coming up. We have to find a way to get ready.”

A little bit of rest certainly won’t hurt.

Niumatalolo gave his players several days off last week for Thanksgiving before reconvening Monday. The three weeks between the setback on the West Coast and the Army-Navy game also afforded some time for a banged-up bunch to recuperate from a season of bruises.

There’s no fixing an autumn of tough breaks. Navy played six games decided by a touchdown or less and lost five — including its most recent outing, which clinched a losing record for the first time since 2002.

“It was a devastating loss,” offensive guard John Dowd said. “You lose any close game, it’s obviously tough. I think it kind of magnifies this game’s importance, though, which is nice to help guys focus in on things.”

Not that it’s ever really required to do so.

Army-Navy is one of the few games that hold national significance even when neither team is ranked or even headed to the postseason (both of which are the case this year). It still will draw a national television audience and capture the attention of military personnel stationed worldwide.

The Mids have won nine straight in the series, dating to a 58-12 victory to cap a 2-10 season in 2002. But there is something even more significant at play considering it truly will be the last game many of Navy’s players are ever a part of.

Former players stop by the Mids’ practices at times; former quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who started in victories over Army in 2006, 2007 and 2008, took in Monday’s session.

Afterward, he spoke with quarterback Kriss Proctor, who gets the nod against the Black Knights for the first time next week, and offered a reminder of the importance of Navy’s final test.

“I think it’s all the more to play for,” Proctor said. “I was just talking to Kaipo, and he was talking about how he misses it so much and how he misses his brothers and how he wishes he could be out here on the practice field running around. We have all that to play for, and it’s a lot. In those terms, it’s going to be a big game.”



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