Army-Navy Game takes twist with Will Worth and Toneo Gulley injuries

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03: Navy Midshipmen running back Toneo Gulley (2) is tripped up in the first quarter by Temple Owls linebacker Avery Williams (2) on December 3, 2016, at Navy - Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire

First the left foot. Then the right foot.

It sounds like a dance, but it’s the season-ending injury report Navy has released for starting quarterback Will Worth (right foot) and starting slotback and team captain Toneo Gulley (left foot). The injuries were suffered on the same play in 34-10 loss to Temple last week in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

For old-time Army and Navy fans, you read that correctly – last week’s game. Navy (9-3) is facing Army (6-5) in the 117th Army-Navy Game Saturday in Baltimore on one week’s rest for the first time since 1941.

Traditionally, the schools have had at least two weeks’ break for their stand-alone game to mark the end of college football’s regular season. This year Army has a three-week break between its win over Football Championship Subdivision member Morgan State (60-3 on Nov. 19 at Michie Stadium and Navy.

In the 1941 season that Navy finished 7-1-1 and ranked No. 10 in the nation, the Midshipmen beat Princeton (23-0) on Nov. 22 and then defeated Army (14-6) on Nov. 29 in Philadelphia before 98,479 fans.

Eight days later, Naval Academy superintendent Rear Adm. Russell Willson hosted the players at his house on the academy campus for lunch on Sunday, Dec. 7.

In the middle of the reception, Wilson was told he had an important phone call. He was informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He gathered his players and told them: “Gentlemen, we are at war. Return to your quarters.”

No one wants to draw that ominous parallel with this year’s Army-Navy Game, especially with Navy Midshipmen and Army and Air Force cadets committed to serve their country in a time of an endless war on terrorism.

Yet, it is a spooky O. Henry irony that the Midshipmen suffered two season-ending injuries to key players in a game that bucked tradition.

However, you can’t second-guess Navy for the unexpected predicament. Joining a conference was a way of keeping up with the times. That’s what Navy has been doing since Paul Johnson rebuilt the program from 2003 to 2007 and Ken Niumatalolo, Johnson’s offensive coordinator, was promoted to succeed him in 2008.

If Navy had beaten Temple for the AAC title, it might have received the Group of Five bid to a New Year’s Six bowl, the Cotton Bowl. That would have been the payoff for a team ranked No. 25 in the nation keeping up with the times.

Nevertheless, Navy punched a ticket to a bowl game for the 13th time in the past 14 seasons. The Midshipmen face Louisiana Tech (8-5) in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Dec. 23 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

This season marks the first time since 2010 that Army and Navy have met with winning records and bound for a bowl game. Army faces North Texas (5-7) in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 27, played in the Cotton Bowl stadium.

With Worth injured, Navy is down to its third quarterback, sophomore Zach Abey. Worth had replaced starter Tago Smith when he went down in the first half of the season opener against Fordham.

For the year, Abey has played in three games with 26 carries for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He is 7-of-13 passing without a touchdown and two interceptions. All his passing attempts were in the Temple game. Abey is backed up by freshman Malcolm Perry.

One reason for Navy’s 14-game winning streak is that the Midshipmen have had superior play at quarterback, especially the previous four years from Keenan Reynolds, a third-team All-American pick as a senior. Worth carried the torch this season, but even he needed time to adjust in September when he was gaining gameday experience.

With Worth out, Army suddenly has the edge at the position. Head coach Jeff Monken has splitting time between two veterans, junior Ahmad Bradshaw and sophomore Chris Carter.

Abey’s inexperience provides an edge to Army’s defense, but this is the Army-Navy Game. Last year Carter was making only his second start as a freshman for 2-9 Army against Reynolds and the 9-2 Midshipmen.

Carter led Army to leads of 3-0, 10-7 and 17-14 before Navy took the lead for good at 21-17.

Don’t try and predict how an Army-Navy Game will turn out, no matter the circumstances… but the circumstances have certainly become more favorable for West Point, due to a historically unprecedented occurrence of Navy playing a conference championship game.

Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055

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