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The worst season in the Naval Academy's 121-year football history came to a fitting and merciful conclusion yesterday at Veterans Stadium.
As Army's Corps of Cadets taunted by chanting "0-and-10" near the end, the Black Knights applied the finishing touch to the ignominy with a 26-17 victory in the 102nd renewal of their classic series.
President Bush, a record crowd of 69,708 at the reconfigured stadium and a national television audience watched Army dominate from the beginning to saddle Navy with only its second winless season of the modern era.
The other was in 1948, when the Midshipmen salvaged some measure of consolation by tying Army to finish 0-8-1.
A familar constraint -- a poor start -- placed Navy into a 13-0 hole it never escaped from and Omari Thompson returned the second-half kickoff 96 yards to a touchdown to apply the exclamation point to Army's 49th win in the historic series. Navy has won 46, and seven games ended in ties.
The Midshipmen scored a perfunctory touchdown in the final minute to make the game appear closer.
"We had a hard time offensively and they were definitely the better team today," Navy quarterback Brian Madden said. "They proved it on both sides of the ball. We never got it clicking, and the scoreboard told that.
"I don't know if I ever got a good look to throw the ball. That was maybe our worst output of the season. We just didn't get it done."
Army's defense, led by captain Brian Zickefoose, pressured Madden into 5-for-22 passing, and he often threw the ball away in frustration. And three times Navy had to be content with field goals instead of scoring touchdowns while trying to rally from sizable deficits.
In a microcosm of their season, the Midshipmen fought uphill -- they were outscored 207-75 in the first half of their 10 games -- and never reached the peak. The outcome left Navy with a 1-20 record in the 21st century.
Things started well when Bush's coin toss went Navy's way. On an unseasonably warm December day that was ideal for football, interim coach Rick Lantz elected to take the ball.
"Our offense has been more proficient this season than our defense," Lantz said. "I expected us to be more proficient offensively. That was our plan, but it didn't work out."
As often has been the case with the snakebitten Midshipmen, they failed to get a first down on their first two possessions while Army (3-8) thrived on the attack early.
On the Black Knights' fifth play, plebe running back Ardell Daniels made the correct read on a simple carry up the middle, cut and raced 60 yards to a touchdown.
The following Army series brought another bombshell when quarterback Chad Jenkins (back from a leg injury) threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Brian Bruenton when Navy cornerback Clyde Clark gambled for the interception and failed.
Halfway into the first quarter, Army was already up 13 points after a missed conversion.
More trouble ensued when Navy, trailing 13-3, tried to run out the clock at the end of the first half. Anthony Miller blocked a John Skaggs punt and Daniels, the game's most valuable player, recovered. On the final play of the half Derek Jacobs kicked a 39-yard field goal for Army as time expired.
Then, Thompson, Army's career leader in kickoff return yardage, scampered down the right sideline to open the second half and Navy's sluggish offense could do little to dent the 20-point difference the runback created.
The victory broke a 12-game Army losing streak away from West Point and a three-game skid this season. The Black Knights finished with an 11-5-1 edge in Army-Navy games played at the Vet, which will no longer exist the next time the game can be played in Philadelphia.
Kudos came profusely from Army coach Todd Berry, who won his first Army-Navy clash in his second season. He lauded Jenkins as "a true warrior" for returning and Daniels, who gained 131 yards in 23 carries, for an outstanding week of practice.
"I wasn't concerned about him going out there and getting intimidated by the situation," Berry said of Daniels. "He's played in some big games before. It's about guys showing up and playing and he did. I knew he would."
The defense also drew its share of praise. "Our defensive players have a great fire about them," the coach said. "We threw our bodies around and played great disciplined football."
Army tight end Clint Dodson completed the festivities by leading the corps in the singing of the Army fight song while astride several of his fellow cadets.
"We watched a history of Army football last night and saw on the tape Neil Ravitz [a tackle] leading the Corps of Cadets after a victory. I knew right then I wanted to do the same thing. I just wanted to give something back to them," Dodson said.
The football team already had.