- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2018

ANNAPOLIS — It’s a year-long motto that builds up to one week, and more exactly, one game: “Go Navy, beat Army.” “Beat Army,” for short.

The Navy Midshipmen say it whether it’s December, April or August. More than one player this week used the word “ingrained” when describing what the phrase meant to them personally.

“It’s a staple,” senior safety Sean Williams said. “Here they make it a part of your identity. It’s on everything. It’s on T-shirts, it’s on the walls, it’s on the weights. It’s on everything we do.”

“Even in plebe summer” — the training program incoming freshmen must complete before their first semester — “the first words you learn coming in here are ‘Beat Army,’” quarterback Zach Abey said. “That’s like the only thing you could say.”

When Navy and Army meet on the gridiron for the 119th time Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the Midshipmen will be in an unfamiliar spot — the underdog with the losing streak.

Army is a seven-point favorite, the first time it has been favored in this game since 2001. The Black Knights would reach 10-2 with a win. Navy won 14 straight meetings until 2016; now Army is looking for its third win in a row.

Very few people saw Navy’s 3-9 season coming. It marks the Mids’ worst single-season record under coach Ken Niumatalolo. But they have the opportunity to end the season on a much better note if they can beat Army.

“Yeah, the season didn’t go so well, but we’re also on this two-year losing streak right now with them,” fullback and offensive captain Anthony Gargiulo said. “Everybody’s always saying how much better they are and this and that.”

Gargiulo likened it to a sibling rivalry, where Navy played the role of the less-respected older brother — never mind that the U.S. Military Academy in West Point was established first.

“They’re the younger brother, they usually get a lot nicer things,” he said. “Get all the publicity. Always causing trouble.”

Saturday’s result likely will come down to defense. Neither side has scored more than 21 points in the last four Army-Navy games. Because both offenses run versions of the flexbone triple-option offense, their defenses are familiar with stopping it.

Williams, the defensive captain, is entering his final Army-Navy game and trying to approach it the same as every other game he’s played in Blue and Gold, believing that will be the best way to enjoy and ultimately remember it.

“Even if we were on an undefeated season, we’re going into the last game,” he said. “In that manner it’s only about how you finish. Everything for us is the one we’ve got on the table. It’s the only one left, so to finish out strong is basically all we have right now and that’s what we want.”

For others, like freshman wide receiver Mychal Cooper, Saturday will be their first taste of Army-Navy action. Cooper attended some Army-Navy games as a high school recruit, but he’s sure it will be an entirely different experience to suit up for a game.

“To be honest, I haven’t really been nervous about any game. And I’m not nervous now, but I’m debating to see if it’s gonna change when I get in the locker room,” Cooper said.

To Cooper, “Beat Army” has to do with pride among different branches of the same military.

“We’re gonna win Saturday and that’s gonna cap our season,” he said. “Yeah, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we have to end on a good note. That’s just what we have to do for our seniors. Especially as a freshman, I found myself this whole year playing for the seniors. Even though I’ve only known them for six months, however many months, they’re my brothers in my eyes.”

Niumatalolo was undefeated in the rivalry game until 2016’s upset loss. Last year, Navy’s Bennett Moehring missed the field goal that would have won the game, causing the two-year slide. It’s a losing streak no one in Annapolis expects will continue.

“One game changes everything,” Niumatalolo said. “That’s the way we’re looking at it. One game changes the whole season.”

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