If you go
What: 18th annual Puget Sound Army vs. Navy Flag Football Classic
When: Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.
Where: Naval Air Station Whidbey Island
If Las Vegas had the odds for the 18th annual Puget Sound Army vs. Navy Flag Football Classic, the team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord would likely be considered a huge underdog.
Navy Region Northwest holds an 11-6 series lead, and the team has won the last four matchups entering this year’s round Dec. 8 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. JBLM has been outscored 82-9 in those four games, including last year’s 28-0 loss.
On the national level of college football, the Army Black Knights from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., broke the Navy Midshipmen’s 14-year winning streak last year. Who’s to say JBLM can’t break its four-year losing streak? The team certainly has confidence it can.
“Who goes into the game thinking they’re going to lose?” said Isaac Cummings, JBLM coach. “We’re not worried about last year, the year before or the streak. We’re in the now.”
Cummings does have coaching experience on JBLM, leading Alpha Company, 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, to two consecutive championship wins in JBLM’s Commander’s Cup Flag Football intramural league.
As the projected starter, Cummings was also one of two quarterbacks who threw during the team’s scrimmage exhibition Tuesday at the Lewis North Athletic Complex against a team from 673rd Dental Company (Area Support). Projected backup Justin Steadman took most of the reps.
Offense has been an issue in the previous four matchups that saw three shutouts and a total of nine points. Last year, JBLM had 121 offensive yards compared to Navy’s 320 yards (most coming in the air as the running game netted minus 3 yards rushing) in a 28-0 result.
The JBLM team had some good plays, but it couldn’t score in a 7-0 loss Tuesday. Cummings said every practice brings improvement.
“We get better the more we play together,” he said. “The consistency is important. Getting together with units training can be difficult, but we’ll be alright.”
The JBLM team’s defense looked strong on a few passing plays, including an interception by Bryce Thomas with his toes dragging inbounds along the sideline, but one play was the difference when 673rd DC quarterback Rakeel McMillian found Lamont Hicks for a 40-yard touchdown pass play.
Missed assignments was a big thing in last year’s loss, which led to three out Navy’s four touchdowns — including a 99-yard touchdown play near the end of the game.
Returning linebacker/safety Patrick Bean said there’s optimism for a JBLM defensive unit that doesn’t seem thrown together at the last minute.
“Defense is always solid; it’s just (a matter of) sticking to assignments,” Bean said.
While a shutout loss in the exhibition game might raise some concerns, the feeling around the team remained optimistic. Last year, some players were ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. There was also a scuffle on the last play of the game when Navy attempted to return an interception for another touchdown.
The players on this team said they don’t want to have any physicality. They want to beat Navy where it counts, on the scoreboard. Team chemistry is motivating for players like Angel Laureano, who returns for his third Army-Navy game.
“We’ve got leadership from last year, so we feel confident,” he said. “People are motivated. People are showing up (to practice).”
Navy will have a new man at quarterback with Jerome Tiller from Naval Base Kitsap. Although last year’s quarterback Taylor Burns had 323 passing yards and four touchdowns, Tiller has position experience at the major collegiate level; playing for Iowa State University in 2009 and 2010.
Tiller moved to wide receiver for the 2012 season, a position he’s played with Navy Northwest the previous two years. Overall, 67 athletes from all three Navy Northwest installations came out for team tryouts in September. Thirty were selected for the final roster.
“The distance between the installations and mission/military requirements makes it difficult to run routine practices,” said Bob Presley, Navy coach. “However, team practices became mandatory (with command support) Nov. 18, so we expect productive runs all the way up to the big day.”