PHILADELPHIA - Ronnie McAda led the biggest comeback in the 97-year history of the Army-Navy game, putting the Cadets in position to win.
Army's defense, helped by a dropped pass, then held on in the rain for a 28-24 victory Saturday that put the No. 23 Cadets in the Independence Bowl.
McAda ran for a career-high 134 yards on 15 carries as Army overcame a 21-3 deficit in the second quarter. The Cadets (10-1) beat Navy for the fifth straight time, tying the longest streak by either team in the series, and now hold a 47-43-7 edge.
"I think they wanted to make me run the ball and make the plays," McAda said. "That's fine with me."
In the final few minutes, it was up Army's defense to preserve the lead.
Navy got the ball on its own 27 with 6:28 to play and moved until it had first-and-goal at the Army 4. The Cadets held, even if they got a break when LeBron Butts dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth down.
After stuffing the Army offense, Navy got the ball back again, this time on its 43 with 56 seconds left to play. With Ben Fay, Navy's top passer, replacing Chris McCoy, the Midshipmen again moved down the field and had a first down on the Army 10.
But Fay threw three incompletions before Army's Garland Gay intercepted him on fourth down.
"The ball slipped out of my hand one time," Fay said. "There's not much you could do. You shouldn't have to let it come down to that."
"We got several opportunities to score and didn't get it in the end zone," Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "We didn't make the plays when we had to."
With President Clinton in attendance, the Cadets won the Commander in Chief's trophy, which goes to the winner in the annual battle among the service academies. The 10 wins is the most ever by an Army team.
Navy dropped to 8-3 and lost its chance for a slot in the Independence Bowl. The Midshipmen are still believed to be in contention for a berth in the Aloha Bowl.
"Navy was playing for something. They were playing for the bowl bid. They were playing for the Commander in Chief's trophy," Army linebacker Ben Kotwica said. "We were playing for someone - we were playing for each other more than anything."
McAda, a senior, finished his Army career with 533 total yards in three games against Navy, the most ever by a Cadet against the Midshipmen. Glenn Davis' 359 yards between 1945-46 was the old record.
"It almost seems fitting," McAda said of the comeback. "We started the season down 14-0 and nobody blinked an eye. We came out and scored 21 straight points and ended up winning that came. This team has tremendous character."
The Cadets, who entered the game as the country's top rushing team, ran for 340 yards despite the loss of leading rusher Joe Hewitt to a knee injury early in the first quarter.
Army rolled up 456 yards of offense to Navy's 297 in a game played in a steady downpour before 69,238 fans.
Army's Bobby Williams ran for 104 yards, including his 81-yard scoring run that was the second-longest in Army-Navy history. McAda also completed 5-of-10 passes for 116 yards.
The Cadets, down by eight at the half, closed the gap when Williams broke down the left sideline for his long distance run on the second half's second play. Army missed the two-point conversion.
The Cadets took the lead midway through the third quarter on a touchdown set up by a 45-yard run by McAda, his career long. Demetrius Perry finished the 75-yard drive with a 3-yard run, but Army once again missed on the two-point try.
Navy got a 31-yard field goal by Tom Vanderhorst and cut Army's lead to 25-24. J. Parker's third field goal, a 20-yarder, increased the Cadets lead to 28-24 with 6:35 to play.
Army scored first on a 22-yard-field goal by Parker on the last play of the first quarter, but Navy ran off 21 straight points before the Cadets responded with 10 points in the second quarter's final three minutes to cut the Midshipmen lead to 21-13 at the break.
After Parker's field goal, the Middies answered when Pat McGrew broke through a huge hole on the left side and scored on a 7-yard run.
Navy went up 14-3 when LeBron Butts caught a 15-yard touchdown pass with six minutes left in the second quarter, after Army's Jeff Brizic fumbled, made it 21-3 on McCoy's two-yard run 40 seconds later.
Army fought back, with McAda running over Navy linebacker Clint Bruce at the line of scrimmage on the way to a 44-yard touchdown run that made it 21-10.
Parker's second field goal, a 35-yarder with 39 seconds left in the half, cut Navy's lead to eight at the break.