Annapolis, MD (HometownAnnapolis.com) - Navy's 23-member senior class has been one of the most successful in school history. Co-captains Ricky Dobbs and Wyatt Middleton lead a group that has compiled a 33-17 record, qualified for four bowl games, captured the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy three times and beaten Notre Dame three times.
The football Class of 2011 will be honored prior to Saturday's home game against Arkansas State and would love nothing more than to go out with a resounding victory. It is the final home game for the seniors, who will try to conclude their careers by finishing 4-0 against archrival Army.
"This class has come a long way. We've had a lot of guys get on the field and make plays," Middleton said. "I knew coming in that we had a lot of potential and I'm hoping that we can still reach our full potential. It's our last home game. We have to finish strong. We better have a great performance in us."
After sitting out last Saturday's game against Central Michigan due to a slight concussion, Dobbs is expected to make his 23rd career start this Saturday. The record-setting senior owns a 6-1 record as a starter at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with the lone blemish coming last month against Duke.
"This is my last time at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. It was tough that I couldn't play last week. So the last time I played at home we lost to Duke. It's not the way I would want to end. This is a big day, very emotional for all of us seniors.
Dobbs and Middleton are among several seniors who initially met at the Navy Academy Prep School and vowed to accomplish great thing during their careers in Annapolis. Dobbs said it's hard to come to terms with the fact this Saturday will mark their final appearance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"It is kind of hard to believe it's almost over. Time has flown by. It seems like just yesterday it was sophomore year," Dobbs said. "A bunch of us went to NAPS so this is our fifth year together. It's kind of sad that it's all coming to an end, but we want to go out the right way with a big win."
Navy's 23 seniors will soon graduate and begin a five-year military commitment in the United States Navy. They will depart Annapolis knowing these four years of playing college football were special and that Saturdays at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium were memorable.
"I love playing in that stadium. I love the big crowd, love knowing so many people in the stands," Middleton said. "I've had a lot of fun out there on that field. I've tried to live in the moment and really enjoy the experience this season because I know it will be over soon. I've got precious few games left in my career."
With three games remaining, the Class of 2011 has a chance to tie the Class of 1919 for most victories over a four-year span with 36. These seniors can also become the first class in school history to reach 10 victories in consecutive years. A win this weekend would also give Navy at least eight for the eighth straight season.
"These guys have done a lot. A bunch of them have played a ton of football games. They've been in big games and helped us win a ton of games," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "This senior class has done a lot for us. They still have a chance to do some things no other senior class has done. There are still some other goals out there we're going to shoot for."
Navy's pass defense has been under siege the past two months as Wake Forest, Duke, East Carolina and Central Michigan all threw for 300 yards or more. The Midshipmen have allowed almost 800 passing yards in the past two games alone.
There will be no rest for the weary as Arkansas State (4-6) is another team that likes to chuck the football around. Quarterback Ryan Aplin is the trigger man of an attack that ranks 22nd in the country in passing offense with 272 yards per game.
"Very similar to the last couple teams we've been playing. Very explosive offensively, will spread you out and throw the ball all over the place. It's another tough challenge for our guys," Niumatalolo said. "Buddy said they have a thousand formations. They do a lot of different stuff as far as motions and things. Pretty innovative offensively, but the core of what they do is similar to a lot of the teams we've seen this season."
Navy (7-3) has yet to put together a complete effort at home - narrowly avoiding an embarrassing loss to Georgia Southern of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), getting shutout in the first half before rallying to beat SMU, falling behind 24-0 en route to an upset loss to Duke and holding on for dear life to edge Central Michigan by a point.