Navy closer to Commander-in-Chief's Trophy
Originally Published: October 7, 2003By Adam Rittenberg | Special to ESPN.com
Navy took a giant step toward its first Commander-in-Chief's trophy since 1981 with an upset of No. 25 Air Force last Saturday. With three wins, Navy has matched its win total from the last three seasons. The Mids downed Air Force for the first time since 1996, a year that culminated in an Aloha Bowl victory over California. Navy played a disciplined game (only two penalties) and capitalized on Air Force's red zone problems. "I was proud of them," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "Every game we can win here is a step in the right direction."
Junior FB Kyle Eckel trampled the Air Force defense, racking up career highs in yards (176) and carries (33). Eckel, who had 109 yards in the second half, scored the game-winning touchdown on a 4th-and-1. "Kyle played really well," Johnson said. "Our offensive line did a nice job and he broke a lot of tackles. I felt like we had a good chance (on 4th-and-1). We'd been running the ball well all day." The nation's best rushing team, Navy racked up 294 yards against the speedy Falcons defense. The Mids had only 32 yards passing, a number Johnson brushes off. "I could care less about being balanced," he said. "I think that's the most overused axiom in the free world. You take the top 10 rushing teams in the country and their combined record is 41-6. The top 10 passing teams have about the same record. You take what you can get, but to say we'd like 200 rushing and 200 passing, for what?"
Johnson praised his secondary for containing Air Force's option. S Josh Smith had another stellar performance and leads the team with 53 tackles (22 solo). Smith has three interceptions this season, most on the team. LB Bobby McClarin returned to action after missing several weeks with a left hand injury. McClarin used his heavily taped hand to bat down an Air Force pass in the end zone. "That's just a big thing of gauze and tape," Johnson said. "It looks like a club."
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