You've Got To Hand It To The Navy Midshipmen

The Navy Midshipmen deserve a real hand for what they did on Saturday.<p> No, not necessarily for winning the 105th Army-Navy Game.

No, not for squaring the all-time series with Army at 49 wins apiece with seven ties.

No, not for claiming the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for a second straight season.>p? No, not even for clinching the first nine-win season in the proud history of Annapolis football since 1963, when a kid named Staubach played quarterback.

You've got to hand it to the 2004 Navy football team because they used their hands so well on a gleaming, shadowy Saturday in Philadelphia. Filled with good-hands people, Navy cruised to a 42-13 victory over Army in yet another display of dominance against the boys from West Point. After a series of unreal heartbreaks in the 1990s—close losses that annually came down to field goals made (by Army) or missed (by Navy), and which punched the global community of Navy men and women in the gut—the Naval Academy football program has done an extraordinarily good job of ensuring that recent Army games don't come down to the final moments. And considering how Geoff Blumenfeld biffed an early chip-shot field goal, it's good that this game didn't rest on a placekick, either.

Navy made sure this game didn't go down to the wire because of the hands of just about everyone on the roster. On offense and defense, Midshipmen made things happen with their mitts. Throughout a dominating first half, Navy defenders used their hands to break up Army passes and disrupt the Black Knights' passing game on just about every third or fourth-down situation. And midway through the second quarter, Navy's Josh Smith did a lot more than knock a pass away. Using exceptional instincts and extraordinary timing, Smith's hands—just a few yards away from Army quarterback Zac Dahman—were able to quickly snare a jump-pass from the West Point field general. With those same hands cradling the pigskin, the rest of Smith's body tagged along for 67 yards and a dagger-like touchdown that cemented Navy's scoreboard advantage and put the Black Knights in a hopelessly unmanageable position.

But as great as the hands of Navy's defenders were on Saturday, the hands of everyone on the Midshipmen offense were exceptional as well. Kyle Eckel didn't fumble, punishing Army while also receiving countless hard hits in the red zone. Eckel's ball security and avoidance of mistakes enabled the Midshipmen's talent to rise to the surface. And while Aaron Polanco's hands made smart pitches and timely throws in a sound, effective performance, Navy's receivers stole the show with tremendous catches in traffic. While twisting and turning, spinning and stretching, Navy pass catchers pulled off some amazing acrobatics punctuated by some magical manual labor. With super-glue hands, Navy receivers—as a collective unit—made Polanco's passing game potent and productive, even though they all caught just one ball apiece (with the lone exception of Jason Tomlinson, who caught two balls). Lionel Wesley's grab over the middle was the super SportsCenter showcase for a receiving corps whose hands-on performance was outstanding.

Every which way, Navy pounded Army into submission on Saturday. But the pounding came not with an iron fist—for iron fists can't catch footballs. No, Navy beat the Black Knights into the ground with the softest, most agile hands imaginable. As a result, they accomplished more in one football game than any team has a right to expect. With one win over Army, Navy squared a series, won a trophy, did something not done in 41 years, and set the stage for a chance at 10 wins.

That's a hand-some list of achievements, isn't it?


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