By Matt Zenitz
|Eric Kettani exploded for 175 rushing yards in Navy's Sept. 27 win over Wake Forest.
Following a 34-0 shellacking of Army, Navy cruises into the bowl game with wins in seven of its last nine games while Wake Forest staggers in with losses in two of its last three games.
One similarity: Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe are both excited to have the opportunity to play a postseason game in the Nation's Capital.
"We're really excited to be in the EagleBank Bowl, and especially excited to come to Washington, D.C., and have an opportunity to play in the postseason," said Grobe, whose Demon Deacons are going bowling for a third straight season.
"Our kids are looking forward to this great opportunity to be in this new bowl, stay in Washington, D.C. for a couple days," Niumatalolo said. "We're grateful for this opportunity. We have a great opportunity to play a great team from the ACC. We know (Wake Forest), obviously, having played them. The bad thing is we know how good they are. … We're excited for another chance to play them."
The two teams already squared off this season, with the Midshipmen pulling out a 24-17 win Sept. 27 in a game that saw Demon Deacons quarterback Riley Skinner throw four interceptions.
Navy fullback Eric Kettani ran for 175 yards in that game and the Navy ground attack has not missed a beat under first-year coach Niumatalolo, ranking first in the country while gaining just under 300 yards per game.
The Demon Deacons are looking to redeem that September loss, but know it won't be easy.
"To be real honest with you, we know what a great team Navy is," Grobe said. "When we played in the regular season, Navy played great. They played great defense against us, and their offense was as explosive as it has been against everybody this year. So I know we've got our work cut out for us."
The respect is mutual.
"I hope it's a home field advantage for us," Niumatalolo said of playing less than an hour's drive from Annapolis. "We're going to need every advantage we can get against Wake Forest. We were very fortunate last time (to get a win). We're trying to get as many fans as we can. We're going to need that home field advantage to compete with Wake Forest.
"I'm sure they wanted another shot at us. I'm sure they know they could have played better. It's going to be a tough test."
Just two seasons removed from the ACC title, 2008 was somewhat of a disappointment for the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest was never able to get its ground game rolling, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry as a team. Skinner and the passing game did not help matters much as the redshirt junior quarterback threw just seven touchdowns to go along with seven interceptions after the second game of the season.
While Wake's offense struggled, the defense was extremely opportunistic, ranking second nationally with 35 takeaways.
Alphonso Smith and Kevin Patterson proved to be ball hawks at the cornerback position, combining for 10 interceptions, while linebacker Aaron Curry seemed to always be around the football, leading the team with 101 tackles. Curry anchored a defense that limited opposing teams to just 114 rushing yards per game and an average of 3.3 yards per carry.
Issue 132: December 2008