The 124th edition of the Army-Navy Game rolls through Massachusetts Saturday, and one of these programs will take possession of the revered Commander-In-Chief’s trophy.
A Navy win only ensures that the Midshipmen will share in the trophy honor, but Army’s 20-point defeat of Air Force in early November certifies that the Black Knights will be the sole possessor of the CIC hardware should they win.
The New England setting marks the third time the game will be played outside of the Mid-Atlantic region — Chicago in 1926, and Pasadena, Calif. in 1983 — and will be contested at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
“We’re excited about going up there,” said Navy head coach Brian Newberry at a Nov. 27 presser. “It’s one of the things that’s kind of nice about this game is changing locations and getting to see different places.”
Navy’s record against Army currently stands at 62 wins, 54 losses, and seven ties, and the Black Knights’ efforts against the Mids are obviously the converse. The football rivalry began in 1890, with Navy prevailing 24-0.
The coveted CIC trophy was first awarded in 1972 and is claimed by the service academy that posts the better head-to-head record in a given season.
“It’s just a privilege and an honor to be a part of this game,” said Army head coach Jeff Monken in a Nov. 29 press conference at Gillette Stadium. “To be a part of the competition that represents those men and women that serve. Men and women who are in foxholes somewhere around the world…places around the globe and here domestically. And the fact that we get a chance to represent them next Saturday in a competition that will be as fierce and as competitive as any game that is played this year. And that’s what is incredible about this game is the competitors on the field and how hard they’re fighting.”
Navy quarterback Xavier Arline chimed in as well, saying the game represents the entire armed forces, and he appreciates the opportunity to be a part of it.
“It’s an honor. It’s an honor to be able to do it again,” he commented at the Nov. 29 media day. “I’ve had the privilege to do it once, twice, three times, my fourth time doing it.”
As for the matchup, both squads enter the game 5-6, but each on different trajectories. The Mids gave up 300 yards to SMU’s offense in the first quarter of their last game, losing to the Mustangs 59-14, while Army is riding a three-game winning streak despite losing to Syracuse, Boston College and LSU earlier in the year.
But this contest can redeem Navy’s season and make the Black Knights’ winning streak a whole lot sweeter.
The Midshipmen have lacked personnel continuity at the quarterback position, going through a parade of starters this year. Navy’s version of the option offense necessitates a quarterback run/pass skill set. Three field captains could see playing time Saturday. Arline, who was way down on the depth chart in September, senior Tai Lavatai and freshman Braxton Woodson.
“We’d like to get three quarterbacks that can certainly go in the game and play for you,” Newberry said.
Army will probably deploy its shotgun/option offense but could roll out the triple option they used to defeat Coastal Carolina.
“It’s unique, it’s different,” Newberry said. “When you play this game, you kinda have to prepare for everything…you always see some new wrinkles, some new things, and so we just have to be prepared for everything. They’ve been in the gun most of the year.”
Each team boasts a stellar linebacker on defense.
Army’s Leo Lowin has logged four fumbles in 2023 — tied for the second most in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) — four games with 10 or more tackles and 10 per game in his career.
Navy’s junior linebacker Colin Ramos — a First-Team All-American Athletic Conference selection — has earned two American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors this season. Ramos amassed 10-plus tackles in four consecutive games, ranking second in the AAC with 8.9 tackles per contest.
Besides defensive prowess on the field, the 2023 Army-Navy uniform will be on display too, conveying the story of the 3rd Infantry Division during the opening phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This year denotes the 20th anniversary of the Division’s participation in offensive operations in Iraq.
And 2023 signifies the 60th anniversary of the 1963 showdown between the two service academies where the Roger Staubach-led Mids battled it out with the 7-2 Black Knights, the victor slated to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Navy, at 8-1, won that matchup before falling to Texas in the national championship game, finishing the 1963 season ranked No. 2 in the country.
But at the end of the day in 2023, it’s a game and season for those with the most vested interest in the contest.
“A win in this game — and I think probably Coach Monken will tell you the same thing — regardless of the season you had, ending on a high note, what it does for your football team going into the offseason, going into being on the road recruiting is huge,” Newberry said.