New England Patriots

New England Patriots

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 4: Bryson Daily #13 of the Army Black Knights eludes a tackle while running with the football during the fourth quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Empower Field at Mile High on November 4, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. Army defeated Air Force 23-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Army-Navy is already one of the biggest, oldest, and closest rivalries in college football. But this year’s meeting – which will be held at Gillette Stadium for the first time – will hold a little bit more weight.

In addition to the rivalry between the two Academies, they’re also part of one of only two three-way trophies annually awarded in college football. Along with Air Force, Army and Navy play for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. It’s awarded to whichever of the Academies beats the other two, or is retained by the previous winner if all three teams go 1-1 in their head-to-head matchups.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 23: The Commander-On-Chief's Trophy is awarded to whichever miliary academy beats the other two in a single season. Each side of the three-sided trophy represents one of the academies. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 23: The Commander-On-Chief’s Trophy is awarded to whichever miliary academy beats the other two in a single season. Each side of the three-sided trophy represents one of the academies. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The CIC Trophy isn’t guaranteed to be up for grabs during the Army-Navy Game every year, since both teams play Air Force prior to meeting each other. That was the case last year, when Air Force swept Army and Navy on its way to capturing the trophy for a record 21st time.

Thanks to a major upset last weekend, that won’t be the case this year. Air Force had already beaten Navy 17-6 and was unbeaten heading into last Saturday’s matchup with Army. However, the Black Knights pulled off a 23-3 upset win in Colorado.

When Army takes the field on Dec. 9 at Gillette Stadium, it will have a chance to win the trophy outright for the first time since 2020 (the Black Knights also retained the trophy in 2021, but a loss to Navy prevented them from claiming back-to-back wins.

Since the CIC Trophy was established in 1972 (the first year all three teams started playing annually), Army has won nine times – the fewest of the three schools (Air Force has won it 21 times, Navy 16). Three of those wins came between 2017-2020, which ended a 20-year drought.

While the Midshipmen can’t win the trophy themselves (a Navy win means Air Force would retain it as the previous year’s winner), they still have a chance to play spoiler to their biggest rival. That’s what they did in 2021, but had failed to do the three previous times that Army had beat Air Force leading up to the game.

“The only taste sweeter than beating Army in any circumstances is beating Army to keep the CIC Trophy from returning to West Point,” recalls Patriots announcer Bob Socci, who prior to coming to New England in 2013 was the voice of Navy football for 15 seasons. “And no doubt, any time roles were or will be reversed, the feeling for the Cadets is no different.”

To highlight the importance of the trophy and what it represents, Socci shared a story of the Naval Academy’s 2003 win, snapping a 20-plus year drought.

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 6: Kyle Eckel #32 of the Navy rushes his way to 2 touchdowns and 152 yards against the Army at the Lincoln Financial Field Stadium on December 6, 2003 in Philadelphia, PA. The Navy defeated the Army 34-6. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA – DECEMBER 6: Kyle Eckel #32 of the Navy rushes his way to 2 touchdowns and 152 yards against the Army at the Lincoln Financial Field Stadium on December 6, 2003 in Philadelphia, PA. The Navy defeated the Army 34-6. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

“Throughout the 1990s, Air Force dominated the Commander-In-Chief’s series. But in [former Navy coach] Paul Johnson’s third season in Annapolis, Navy ended a six-game losing streak vs. the Falcons, led by future Patriot Kyle Eckel,” Socci notes. “The Midshipmen then blew out Army to capture the CIC Trophy for the first time since 1981.”

“When the trophy arrived in Annapolis, from what I recall, much of the luster had literally faded,” he recalled. “It wasn’t in exactly the best condition. Navy’s athletic director Chet Gladchuck had the trophy refurbished, before the Academy gave everyone involved in the program CIC Championship rings. It was the highest honor a service academy football team can achieve. And, after going so long without it, the Naval Academy treated it as such.”

With the game now a month away, let’s take a look at each team’s season so far, leading into the matchup…

  • Army Black Knights

    Sep 15, 2023; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Army Black Knights quarterback Bryson Daily (13) hands off the ball to running back Markel Johnson (27) during the second half against the UTSA Roadrunners at the Alamodome. Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 15, 2023; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Army Black Knights quarterback Bryson Daily (13) hands off the ball to running back Markel Johnson (27) during the second half against the UTSA Roadrunners at the Alamodome. Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

    Saturday’s victory over Air Force wasn’t Army’s only upset win of the season. Back in September the Black Knights won 37-29 against a UTSA team that is currently in contention to win the AAC. Army’s other win came against Delaware State, also in September.

    Army’s offense has expanded under first-year offensive coordinator Drew Thatcher. Thatcher has the Black Knights playing more out of the shotgun, and while the option element is still very much present there are more passing elements involved. Quarterback Bryson Daily has already thrown for six touchdowns, which is tied for the most in a season by an Army QB since 2018.

    Linebacker Jimmy Ciarlo is one of the bigger play-makers on Army’s defense. He’s leads the team with five tackles for loss and three sacks this year.

    There are two games left on Army’s schedule before Army-Navy. They’ll host Holy Cross this week, and then Coastal Carolina next week.

  • Navy Midshipmen

    Oct 21, 2023; Annapolis, Maryland, USA; Air Force Falcons wide receiver Dane Kinamon (23) is swarmed by Navy Midshipmen defense during the first half at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 21, 2023; Annapolis, Maryland, USA; Air Force Falcons wide receiver Dane Kinamon (23) is swarmed by Navy Midshipmen defense during the first half at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Navy is in its first year under new head coach Brian Newbury, who previously served as the team’s defensive coordinator. Unsurprisingly Navy has been led by its defense this year, averaging 23.4 points allowed per game.

    Linebacker Will Harbour leads Navy this year with 60 tackles, seven for a loss, and is one of three players with three sacks. Safety Rayuan Lane has also been a playmaker, with three interceptions and seven more pass breakups.

    Like Army, Navy has started passing the ball more this year. Fullback Alex Tecza has been a well-rounded threat for the Midshipmen with 90 total touches for 594 yards and four touchdowns.

    Navy has three more games before heading to Gillette Stadium. The Midshipmen host UAB and East Carolina the next two weeks, before traveling to SMU Thanksgiving weekend.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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