On a sparkling Saturday in Baltimore, the Milestone Midshipmen won their sixth straight game against Army. In 108 years of Army-Navy football, that's never been done. Never. That means three straight senior classes have never lost to the Black Knights. Never.
Two straight Navy senior classes have never lost a Commander-in-Chief Trophy game. Never.
See a theme emerging here? The word "never" is not supposed to be used in sports discussions by sane analysts and even-tempered experts. People who talk about sports for a living aren't supposed to engage in hyperbole or excess--not if they're truly responsible and sober. But with the Milestone Midshipmen, the word "never" has to enter one's vocabulary. This 2007 team, like the program Paul Johnson has built over the past several years in Annapolis, is doing things that have never been done before.
Never-never Land isn't just a part of the Magic Kingdom--it's the wonderful world of Navy football right now.
Just how did the Milestone Midshipmen triumph over Army in another win for the history books... and for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy case? In a word, attitude.
Navy didn't dominate this game statistically, nor did the Johnson Boys control the line of scrimmage. But in all three phases of the game, Navy made clutch plays in big situations. Timely excellence, as opposed to consistent superiority, carried the boys in blue to a victory that was far closer than the final score could ever indicate.
Great teams--and the prime-time players on them--aren't awesome all the time, just when they have to be. This ability to rise to meet the moment comes from an attitude that expects excellence and insists on victory. Navy has this quality, while Army simply doesn't. Consider this the "It" factor: whatever "it" is, Navy has "it." And once you gain "it," you don't lose "it" unless the other team does something really remarkable to take your mojo away from you.
Reggie Campbell has definitely possessed "it" throughout his storied career in Annapolis. His 98-yard kickoff return cemented Navy's advantage and gave the Midshipmen breathing room. The lightning bolt discouraged Army and forced Stan Brock's team to play a game of catch-up, a task ill-suited to the Black Knights and their inconsistent offense.
Zerbin Singleton had "it" against Army. A 38-yard touchdown run and a clutch fourth-down conversion marked an outstanding day for the resilient young man who has been a standout performer throughout this season.
Joey Bullen had "it" on Saturday in Baltimore. His 51-yard field goal at the end of the first half represented just one of many daggers that, collectively, became too much for Army to overcome.
Last but certainly not least, Navy's defense had "it" against the Black Knights. The much-maligned unit saved its best stuff for the biggest game of the year, smothering Army with tremendous toughness in the trenches and more-than-adequate skill in pass coverage. With a newfound physicality and marked determination in the red zone, Navy kept Army off the scoreboard on a day when the Midshipmen didn't get the raw offensive output they're accustomed to.
From start to finish, and throughout their roster, the Milestone Midshipmen were effective, though not elegant; productive, though not pretty; successful, though not spectacular. Great teams deliver great results when not always at their best. To sink Army 38-3 without uncorking 400 rushing yards (or even 300) on the Black Knights is just the latest testament to this team's singular ability to believe and then achieve.
There have been greater Navy teams in college football history, decorated squads led by the likes of Staubach and Bellino. But they'll talk about this 2007 squad, the Milestone Midshipmen, for a good long time to come in Annapolis. The Johnson Boys will be remembered decades after this season and the Battle of Baltimore that ended it in style.