PHILADELPHIA — Watching the last two Army-Navy games from the sideline, Lonnie Richardson could only imagine what it would be like if he had an opportunity to be in the middle of the action.
That chance could come Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field when Richardson, a junior defensive back for Navy, is likely to see action for the Midshipmen against the Black Knights in the 114th meeting of the rivals. And it could be beyond his wildest imagination.
“I have pictured it in my mind,” said Richardson. “But I don’t think I can simulate the feeling, the emotions that I feel. I remember in the Air Force game that my heart was racing. I felt like I was playing at a whole different speed. But I feel this game is going to be elevated 10 times, 100 times more.”
It will feel that way for the participants on both sides. The Midshipmen (7-4) want to extend their 11-game winning streak in the series, while Army (3-8) seeks to end the longest run by one side against the other in a series that began in 1890.
While Richardson, who sat out last year with a knee injury, will be taking the field for the first time in the classic, Army defensive end Jarrett Mackey, a fifth-year senior, will be involved for the final time. He and his 27 fellow seniors want to go out with a victory.
The game matches two of the nation’s top three rushing offenses. The No. 1 Black Knights, who lost their top returning runner, senior Raymond Maples (West Catholic), to a groin injury in the season’s third game, have found a capable back in junior Terry Baggett, who has rushed for 1,072 yards, an 8.2-yard average and eight touchdowns.
Navy has been sparked by sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who has amassed 1,124 yards and 26 touchdowns, one off the NCAA single-season record for a quarterback.
“He can make plays with his legs, he can make plays with his arm, and he can make plays with what’s between his ears,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “He is a very competent, cool and calm operator. He sees the game very well and keeps them out of bad situations.”
Thanks to the long layoff, each team should have an extra body or two in the backfield following injuries. Army’s Hayden Tippett (ankle) and Navy’s Noah Copeland (leg and foot) and Chris Swain (hamstring) all are expected to play. Copeland led the Midshipmen with 99 rushing yards in last year’s 17-13 win over Army.
Of course, with all the attention on the running game, a pass completion in the clutch could be valuable. It was that way last season when Reynolds hit Brandon Turner for 49 yards to set up his own 8-yard run for the decisive touchdown.
The stakes Saturday are high. Navy wants to maintain its winning streak and Army would prefer to start a streak of its own. The seniors yearn to say that they won their last Army-Navy game. Servicemen and women around the world will be watching.
“It’s a whole lot of pressure because you want to win for the seniors,” Richardson said. “But at the same time, we realize it’s just a game. We have to have fun. Once you’re having fun and flying around, the pressure kind of goes away.”