The usual pageantry associated with college football’s most storied rivalry took place, including the march-ons and the singing of both service academies’ alma maters after the game. Navy’s win meant the seventh-straight Navy senior class heard their alma mater sung second — as is the tradition for the winners — all four years.
“To win 10 games in a row is unheard of,” said senior Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor.
Both teams entered the game on the heels of disappointing seasons, but players on each side said a win would mean this season was a success. This is the first season since 2002 that Navy will not play in a bowl game. Army, which won the Armed Forces Bowl to finish last season 7-5, fell back to 3-9 after expectations were raised for 2011.
Niumatalolo credited Army coach Rich Ellerson for the growth of the Army football program as Ellerson has built it up with the triple option rushing attack in much the same way Navy did.
“Those kids have bought into what they’re doing. Every time we play them from now on, the games are going to be battles,” Niumatalolo said.
Army junior quarterback Trent Steelman led a young Black Knight squad scoring touchdowns on three straight drives just when it appeared the tenth straight Army-Navy would be a blowout.
Keeping the game close, though, is no longer good enough for the Army players who are tired of hearing the word “almost.”
“Almost doesn’t work, but it’s something I have to live with now as my legacy. It’s not a good feeling.” said Army senior captain Steven Erzinger.
Both teams’ running attacks churned up more than 290 yards, and the teams combined for over 300 rushing yards at halftime. Proctor led the Midshipmen with 97 yards and two touchdowns. Teich remained steady throughout the game, rushing for 93 yards and one touchdown while averaging a gaudy five yards per carry.
As the senior fullback ran onto the field after halftime with the score tied at 14, Teich stopped by Navy’s brigade to fire up his fellow Midshipmen. He didn’t want his class to be the one to end Navy’s winning streak.
Teich followed up his brigade pep talk by returning the second half kickoff 48 yards into Army territory. Proctor capped off a 48-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Mids a 7-point lead.
Army didn’t go away like they had in the past nine games against Navy. On their next possession, the Black Knights marched 74-yards, finishing the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Steelman to slotback Malcolm Brown.
“We were clicking on both sides of the ball and complementing each other very well. Just to be in it like that and know the game is right there in your hands, it’s a tough one to swallow,” Steelman said.
Those were the last points Army scored as Navy’s defense stiffened and Army hurt themselves with untimely penalties and turnovers.
Army’s defense stopped the Midshipmen on third down with less than two minutes to play, leaving Niumatalolo with the decision of whether to go for it on fourth and inches. Navy lined up its offense as if they were going for it, even though Niumatalolo admitted after the game he would have taken a timeout, and Army jumped offsides.
“In my wildest dream I didn’t think we’d get them [to jump offside]. I was just doing that to take a chance, and fortunately we did get them [to jump],” said Niumatalolo, who leaped into the air next to the referee who threw the flag when he saw Army’s defense creep into the neutral zone.
The Army penalty gave Navy a first down and allowed the Midshipmen to drain all but two seconds that remained in the game.
Army had a chance to seize control of the game in the third quarter when Proctor fumbled immediately following Army’s third touchdown. However, the referees flagged Army for a chop block, the second of the game, forcing Army to go 25 yards for a first down. Army’s triple option attack isn’t designed for such a hole, and Army punted after one of the game’s few pass attempts fell incomplete.
Navy’s offense proceeded to chew up more than nine minutes on the next drive. An 8-yard run by Teich set Navy up with a first-and-goal from Army’s 2-yard line, but Navy couldn’t punch it in. Teague kicked his first field goal of the game from 23-yards out to give Navy a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
On the following kickoff Navy freshman fullback Noah Copeland forced another Army fumble, which was scooped up by the Midshipmen forcing Army’s defense to go right back on the field.
“Jon kicked it right where we wanted him to. I hit the guy and the ball came out. It was wonderful to make a play,” Copeland said.
Proctor and his offense had the chance to essentially end the game with a touchdown, but Army’s defense stood tall and didn’t allow the Midshipmen to gain a yard. Niumatalolo called for his kicking team despite Teague’s season-long struggles and the senior kicker rewarded him by sneaking the 44-yard kick inside the right post.
“Jon Teague is an example of this team. A guy who took all the pressure and took all the criticism throughout the course of this season, but he stayed the course and he never got down on himself. And nobody on this team gave up on him. As you saw coach didn’t give up on him,” Teich said. “We were going to live and die by Jon Teague. I’m so proud of him today. Those two kicks he made today were the two biggest kicks of the entire season and that dude was ice so I’m proud of him.”