There is no doubt that the 110th meeting between Army & Navy had more on the line than just bragging rights. As a matter of fact, the burden of proof coming into today's contest was on the Black Knights.
For Army, who entered the game with a 5-6 record, coming away with a win against their academy rival Navy, who had a successful with a 8-4 record would qualify their season on a few levels.
First, beating Navy speaks for itself, but such a win would have guaranteed the Black Knights a spot in the 2009 EagleBank Bowl against Temple. Not to mention that it would end Navy's seven game win streak over Army and prove the Gold & Black their highest win total since 1996 (10-2).
Coming into today's game, Navy has grabbed a 53-49-7 advantage in this classic college football series and came into today game with the confidence and swagger that they have assembled in the recent dominance. Hence, it would take an "A" game performance from Army to remove to knock off that Navy, "we are better than you attitude."
For the Midshipmen, a win today would mean a Service Academy record seventh straight Commander-In-Chief's Trophy.
And that task at hand was to stop Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs who was ranked No 2 in the nation in touchdowns scored (23) and in points per game (12.6).
Staying true to form, the Black Knights' offense needed the defense to jump start any resemblance of momentum, when on Navy's first possession of the game, linebacker Steve Erzinger picked off a Ricky Dobbs pass and returned it 26 yards to the Navy 12 yard line. However, the offense stalled and settled for a Alex Carlton 23 yard field goal. This was Carlton's 18th field goal on the season, which tied an Army record, but also represented the Black Knights' first points against the Midshipmen in seven quarters, as well as their first lead over their rival since their 2006 matchup.
ARMY - 3 NAVY - 0
The balance of the 2nd & 3rd quarters saw the Army defense continuously swarm and pressure Dobbs in his run and passing attempts. So much that the Navy offense line was called for three untimely holding penalties in their attempt to hold off the defensive pressure up front.
The Army defense was able to hold Navy to a 110 yards total offense, as the Black Knights were able to hold on to their 3-0 lead as the teams made their way to their respective locker rooms. Significant? Yes, because it was the first time this was accomplished by Army since 2001.
The challenge for both teams would be to see how they would react to unfamiliar territory. For Army, it was the unfamiliar half time lead and for Navy, it was not having the lead, especially against the Black Knights.
As the sellout crowd of 69,541 was anxiously waiting to see how each team would respond and it did not take long to see that Navy was up to the challenge.
The Midshipmen answered the 3rd quarter call by marching down the field 68 yards on eleven plays, that saw freshman free safety Ty Shrader, who stepped in for injured Donovan Travis bite on a play action fake by Dobbs, who hit a wide open Marcus Curry for a 25 yard touchdown.
And after holding the Black Knights to a three and out, the Midshipmen proceeded to march down the field on their next possession, where they were able to take 6:54 off the clock and add three points on Joe Buckley's 36 yard field goal.
NAVY - 10 ARMY - 3
Going into the 4th quarter, the Army offense was shut down by the Middies and wide receiver Ali Villanueva saw only one pass thrown his way for the first three quarters.
However on Army's next possession, Black Knights' quarterback Trent Steelman began to seek out his lead receiver and hit him on two key passes of 10 yards and 18 yards, as the Black Knights moved the ball down to the Navy14 yard line. But again, the offense stalled and came away empty as dependable Alex Carlton missed on a 32 yard field goal attempt.
On Navy's next possession, the Army defense held and forced a three and out. On the Black Knights' ensuing play, fullback Kingsley Ehie coughs up the ball and Navy returns it 21 yards to the Army 12 yard line.
Four plays later and with 6:25 remaining, Dobbs takes it in from one yard out and giving the Midshipmen a 14 point lead. Dobbs' score was his 24th touchdown of the season and a NCAA single season rushing record for a quarterback.
NAVY - 17 ARMY - 3
Not to throw in the towel, the Black Knights drive once again inside the red zone of Navy with several successful passes from Steelman to Villanueva. But what has become an unfortunate theme for the offense and would make an nice catch phrase for some wireless company "There was no connection in the red zone."
This time, the Black Knights were unable to put any points on the board and with 2:36 remaining, it was just a matter of the clock running out to ensure the Midshipmen their 8th win in a row over the Black Knights.
Not only did Navy win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, but they did so in solid fashion, as they held both Army and Air Force without a touchdown this season.
This was the most competitive Army-Navy game in sometime, but clearly the Army players and the coaching staff aren't looking for moral victories and felt coming into this game, that it was winnable.
But the staff also knows that this season and this game represent the laying of the foundation, that returns an impressive number of starters for the 2010 season.
"The vast majority of those guys are going to play again for us," shared a disappointed Rich Ellerson. "We had some young guys get exposed a little bit here and there, but that will come back to them. From a plan standpoint, W's and O's and such, that's going to adjust. That's not the story. It's how we got here. We don't have the happy ending in here. We don't have the storybook ending that we all wished for and wanted, but we did everything to set it up."