It’s been a resurgence of a season for the Navy football team, turning around a 3-10 record in 2018 to a 9-2 record so far in 2019.
With a 56-41 win at Houston Nov. 30, the No. 24 Midshipmen clinched a share of the American Athletic Conference West Division regular-season title with No. 17 Memphis. Despite both having 7-1 conference records, a 35-23 loss against the Tigers Sept. 26 ultimately thwarted Navy’s chance of playing for an AAC title and Group of Five bid for a New Year’s Six bowl.
The Midshipmen will, however, play Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl Dec. 31, but Navy has more pressing matters. On Nov. 14, it will renew its annual rivalry with Army in Philadelphia. A win not only ends a three-game Black Knight winning streak in the rivalry but secures the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 2015.
“Records coming into the game don’t matter at all. We know that every year, it’s going to be a close game. Every year, it’s going to be a dog fight,” senior safety Elan Nash said on Glenn Clark Radio Dec. 5. “For us, this year, we have confidence that we really believe we can do this and what it’s gonna come down to for winning is just being disciplined and doing your job.”
With a loss, Navy’s senior class would be the first since 1996 to not beat Army during their college careers, but Nash and his teammates refuse to let that happen.
“I can’t even put it into words how much of a motivating factor that is,” Nash said. “It’s something that’s been in the back of our minds all year. Now that this one’s finally here, and this final opportunity to beat them is in front of us, it’s kind of unbelievable. Despite all the great things we’ve done this year, we know if we don’t get this one, it just won’t feel right.”
A Glen Mills, Pa., native, Nash grew up around the rivalry. Eighty-eight of the 119 previous meetings were held in The City of Brotherly Love. There’s no brotherly love had on the field, but the experience both as a fan and as a player is unrivaled in college football.
“I remember when I was younger, my dad had taken me to a few Army-Navy games as a fan and I could tell right then it was something special,” Nash said. “As a player, there’s moments when you’re in the game and you just kind of have to sit back for a second, look up at all the people in the stands and just take it for a moment of where you are and what you’re doing.”
While records are set aside for games like this, it’s tough to not talk about the success the Midshipmen have had this season. Navy is the ninth-highest scoring offense in the nation, averaging 39.3 points per game while allowing just 24.2 points per game on defense.
The offense has run through dual-threat quarterback Malcom Perry, who has led the nation’s top rushing offense at 360.8 rushing yards per game. The senior is sixth in the nation with 1,626 rushing yards and tied for fifth with 19 rushing touchdowns.
However, all of this started in the offseason and a massive shakeup among the coaching staff, as head coach Ken Niumatalolo brought in seven new coaches. As of now, the changes have paid off.
“We kept that chip on our shoulder and that bad taste in our mouth from last season and we helped that fuel us though the whole offseason,” Nash said. “That really laid the foundation that we’re seeing actualized on the field now.”
Navy’s always stressed a 1-0 mentality every week, that whatever game was up next was the most important game. If everyone follows the game plan, there’s a good chance many people will be seeing Navy hold up the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after the game.
“It’s just going to come to everyone doing their part and taking care of the ball,” Nash said. “If we don’t have turnovers on offense, we do our job on defense, it should be a great day.”
For more from Nash, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox